Tired and cranky? Brock student researcher hopes public can help find out why

Didn’t get enough sleep last night? You’re not alone. One-third of Canadians suffer from sleep problems.

Reuben Howlett, a master’s student in Brock University’s Department of Psychology, wants to understand how poor sleep affects emotion and cognition, and hopes members of the public can help by participating in his most recent study.

According to Statistics Canada, around half of Canadian adults have trouble falling or staying asleep, and a third sleep less than the recommended seven hours. At any given time, about 10 per cent are suffering from clinically debilitating insomnia.

Reuben Howlett, a master’s student in Psychology, demonstrates some of the equipment in Brock University’s Sleep Research Laboratory with third-year PhD student Kari Lustig.

Poor sleep greatly reduces productivity, costing billions to the economy, and leaves drowsy drivers at an increased risk of car crashes.

Getting enough sleep lowers your risk of heart attack and stroke, helps regulate your appetite, protects against cancer and dementia, and even boosts your immune system. It also improves reaction time, mood, emotion regulation and memory.

“Imagine if there was medicine that you could take daily that did all this, people would be lining up at the pharmacy. So why are we neglecting sleep?” asks Howlett.

The 29-year-old Etobicoke resident is interested in understanding the effects of poor sleep on people’s ability to perceive information, such as facial expressions and pictures, in their environment. His master’s thesis research project is supervised by Kimberly Cote, Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience, Director of the Brock University Sleep Research Laboratory, and Past President of the Canadian Sleep Society.

“Our research will contribute to a growing body of knowledge on how sleep affects human cognition and daily functioning,” Cote says.

Members of the public are asked to participate in Howlett’s ongoing study.

Study participants don’t need to sleep at the lab. Instead, they take home a simple, easy-to-use version of the cutting-edge equipment that researchers use. Participants wear the sleep monitors in their own homes for two nights, then spend an afternoon on Brock’s main campus completing computer tasks in the lab.

Researchers are looking for both good and poor sleepers aged 18 to 50. Good sleepers who are not shift workers, are non-smokers and have no diagnosis of psychiatric conditions (such as depression, anxiety or schizophrenia) are invited to contact the Sleep Lab. For poor sleepers, researchers are seeking individuals who have trouble falling/staying asleep and who normally get less than 6.5 hours of sleep. They must have difficulty sleeping at least three times a week and the trouble must have been ongoing for at least one month.

All participants will receive a $60 honorarium. Poor sleepers will also receive a guidebook on how to improve their sleep.

To sign up or for more information on eligibility requirements, contact the Brock Sleep Research Laboratory at sleeplab@brocku.ca, 289-407-1567 or by visiting the lab’s Facebook page.

This project has been funded by two internal grants from Brock University: a Council for Research in the Social Sciences award and a Brock University Student Research Award.

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