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New Research Lab Looks at the Science of Sleep

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Inside a newly remodeled, 1,650-square-foot space, researchers with Baylor’s Sleep Neuroscience and Cognition laboratory has been studying the impact of sleep on cognition, learning and education. KWBU’s Carlos Morales has more on the new facility and the research done.

At Baylor University’s Sleep Neuroscience and Cognition lab, students are demonstrating how a research participant would be dressed with various electrodes that help measure the brain’s electrical activity. It’s apart of research that the lab has been conducting since it first opened about a month ago. The research tests the relation between sleep and various brain activity.

The lab’s director, Michael Scullin says, ideally the lab will establish long-term relationships with participants so they can "follow whether sleep, the quality of their sleep at a certain time point can actually predict how well their memory and other things are preserved with aging.” 

The lab itself is complete with three bedrooms; each about 10x15 feet, with polysomnography equipment, which records a participant's sleep, including brain activity, the amount of oxygen in their blood, their breathing patterns, heart rate and eye movement.

Scullin says that after all the electrodes are applied, which can be anywhere from 6 to 20 depending on the study, participants are given a series of tests all before they head to sleep. 

“[W]hat we normally do is after we’re done with this process, we’d turn [the particpiant] around and start up the computer and we’d give her something like a memory test. For example we have a study, were we are showing faces of people and asking the individual, learn this faces as best as you can," Scullin says. 

After a night of sleep, participants are tested on which faces they recognize. 

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Sculliln says in this particular study, researchers are trying to relate memory retention to the quality of sleep – which isn’t just measured by how long a participant slept, but also by the type of sleep stages they went through – slow wave sleep and REM sleep. Although previous research at Baylor has looked at how clinical interventions relate to sleep, there hasn’t been a specific focus on sleep physiology.

Scullin estimates about 30 people have participated in the 3-day study so far.