WSU Sleep and Performance Research Center awarded DoD grant to study sleep deprivation

WSU Sleep and Performance Research Center awarded DoD grant to study sleep deprivation

Washington State University’s Sleep and Performance Research Center in Spokane was just recently awarded a $2.8 million grant by the Department of Defense to study how sleep deprivation affects our decision to make sound decisions.

“When people are sleep deprived what we find is they have really poor cognitive flexibility,” said Dr. Kimberly Honn, Assistant Professor of Research, “so if they have information and are following direction they can do well until something changes.”

She says better understanding how sleep deprivation impacts parts of the brain can have huge application to making conditions better for sleep deprived workers.

“It can cause terrible accidents for people working around the clock or in shift work industries,” Honn said, “or in emergency medicine and the military.”

The study will take three years to complete and will require 90 human participants. It is also being done in conjunction with animal subjects, and will require 250 rats. Researchers include Dr. Hans Van Dongen, Marcos Frank, Jonathan Wisor, Chris Davis with the WSU Spokane Medical School. Dr. John Hinson, and Paul Whitney are also involved in the study and are based in Pullman and are in the College of Arts and Sciences in the psychology department.

Spokane’s lab looks much like a dorm or a hotel would and is four bedrooms with a communal area in between. When participants sleep they are wired up and supervised using cameras placed in the rooms.

“A standard study is four days three nights and you are here 24/7,” Honn said.

The sleep deprivation will be for 38 hours. She says participants will have to take tests throughout to understand and measure brain function. The test will also use blood samples from participants.

While work is done on humans, rats will be used in a different lab to study sleep deprivation at a more specific level, targeting brain circuits that might hold the clue to overcoming the affects of sleep deprivation using optogenetics.

“With optogenetics what we can do is taken an algal protein and transfect that onto a neuron and when the neuron is stimulated by blue light it actually fires,” said Dr. Chris Davis, Assistant Research Professor.

Depending on which brain circuits respond, that allows research to identify which parts of the brain are impacted by sleep.

“Once you have a targeted area, you can then target specific gene therapies or drug therapies to try and understand those areas of the brain,” he said.

He says the study could open up future research, in the relatively understudied field of sleep, and its results could have huge application.

“Of the top seven killers in the US, four of those have sleep loss as risk factors,” he said. “That’s cancer, diabetes, accidents and heart disease.”

To learn more about the lab or to learn about participating in a study, which are paid click here and here.