New technology may help establish A&M as leader in sleep science

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Research at the Neurobiological Lab for Learning and Development is focused on making the College of Education and Human Development a leader in the sleep-quality field by examining sleep’s full impact.

“Few education departments have a specialization in this area because sleep research is hard to conduct and requires collaboration of multiple researchers,” said lab director Steven Woltering, an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Psychology.

The first piece of the puzzle is the college’s new polysomnography system, which allows researchers to simultaneously collect a wide array of measurements during sleep.

Woltering and Nicolaas Deutz, a professor in the Department of Health and Kinesiology and director of the Center for Translational Research in Aging and Longevity, were awarded a college Catapult Grant in 2015 to purchase the system, which will collect data to support various research targeting the remediation and optimization of health and learning.

More than a dozen faculty members in the College of Education and Human Development as well as in the Dwight Look College of Engineering have expressed interest in different research projects using the system. Woltering believes this will provide the opportunity to become a leader in sleep research with applications for education.

“Innovation often occurs at the intersection of different disciplines,” he said, “and it is my hope that bringing together researchers with shared goals but different methodological and theoretical perspectives will lead to impactful discoveries.”

Woltering and Deutz are currently working with researchers and graduate students on training with the system with hopes of starting pilot testing when the Human Clinical Research Facility opens in 2017.

One of the first focus areas for the research is the importance of napping and what happens to a person’s brain during a nap. Woltering and graduate student Yajun Jia have questions about why one person can quickly fall asleep, nap and wake refreshed while another is not as successful.

“We’re looking at these elements that impact how fast people can fall asleep, what helps them fall asleep faster and the type of conditions that facilitate that, and also how you can organize what kind of control you can have over napping and not feeling so awful when you do wake up,” he said.

Woltering also wants to take a closer look at how sleep affects emotional function.

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