Wheeling Jesuit University

WJU Receives Grant to Create Sleep Performance Lab

Grant will allow WJU to purchase equipment to install sleep lab.

WJU Receives Grant to Create Sleep Performance Lab Wheeling Jesuit University’s psychology students will have the opportunity to conduct more in-depth research this upcoming academic year thanks to a Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) grant.

WJU’s psychology department was recently awarded a $23,000 MRI grant, which is funded by the National Science Foundation. The grant will be used to build a sleep performance lab on the WJU campus and to buy the equipment needed for the lab.

“This grant will give Wheeling Jesuit psychology students the opportunity to conduct more hands-on lab research than ever before,” said Dr. Bryan Raudenbush, professor of psychology at WJU. “ This will open up a variety of new research experiences for WJU students and serve as an additional laboratory for courses in psychophysiology, sensation and perception, as well as the states of consciousness.”

A sensory attenuation chamber (there are only a few sleep attenuation chambers in the United States—none of which are located in this part of the country), sleep monitoring equipment, beds, computers and night-vision closed circuit television monitors will all be included in the lab.

Raudenbush has had widespread success in the past with research he has conducted regarding the effect that peppermint has on athletes. His research revealed that the scent of peppermint could enhance the psychological aspects of athletic performance and indicated that actual physical performance can be enhanced. The effects of odor on sleep performance will be examined as part of this research.

His most recent study will include 30 participants who will be monitored during sleep in two different rooms for three evenings.

The lab will consist of two different parts. The first part of the lab will contain beds with monitoring equipment and closed circuit monitors. The second part of the lab will contain an attenuation chamber, which is actually a giant tank of water. The person will be closed in the chamber, cutting off all sensory experiences such as light and sight. The individual will then float on the water. By sleeping in these two different environments, the study should reveal which environment is better to sleep in, the bed or the attenuation chamber without any sensory feel.

During the sleep cycle while in the normal room, individuals will be exposed to one of three conditions, consisting of the presentation of one of two odorants (lavender or lemon) or non-odored control condition. The decision to use the scents of lavender and lemon is based on research indicating these odorants result in subjects reporting greater relaxation, less anxiety and increased mood.

“Research has shown that odors have significant effects on a person’s nervous system, even in the absence of ones attention and awareness of odors,” said Raudenbush. “Therefore, it is reasonable to expect that bodies may respond to odors presented during sleep. The study will also investigate whether the presence of an odorant during sleep has any effect on sleep patterns during the night.”

“Based on past physiological work, it is reasonable to expect that the presentations of odors will result in a general calming of the central nervous system,” said Raudenbush. “If so, participants should be able to fall asleep faster and have a more restful night’s sleep. Given a more restful sleep, post-sleep measures of cognitive performance and wakefulness should be higher in the odor conditions than in the control condition.”

During sleep in the normal room, objective physiological variables such as sleep duration, time to sleep onset, EEG pattern (electrical activity of the brain), pulse blood pressure and respirations will also be measured. Objective and subjective measures of sleep quality, post-sleep cognitive performance and wakefulness will be measured as well.

According to Raudenbush, the ramifications of this study’s findings could be tremendous. Given that sleep deprivation affects approximately one-third of the total population, and these problems are traditionally treated with drugs, any non-pharmaceutical adjunct to promote increased sleep quality would be greatly accepted.

The equipment that is being bought for the lab will serve a variety of uses on the campus. It will be used for future research endeavors by all faculty members in the department and be used for numerous undergraduate learning and research activities.

“I am hoping to start setting up the sleep lab when the students return for the fall semester,” said Raudenbush. “By 2002 our students should have everything set-up and we can start researching.”

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