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Groundbreaking Research Taking Place at Trent while the World Sleeps

Carlyle SmithAccording to Professor Carlyle Smith, Trent's renowned sleep specialist, the data being collected at the new Sleep Lab in the early morning hours is what is going to put the University on the map in terms of cutting edge sleep research.

Since the Sleep Lab was built in the summer of 2005 and became fully operational in January 2006, researchers have been busy collecting data to support their landmark theory that certain kinds of sleep can be connected to specific types of learning. More specifically, they are working to prove that cognitive learning is related to REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, while motor learning is related to Stage 2 sleep.

"Our interest is in how sleep is related to the things you learn, how you learn them, and your memory of those things," explained Professor Smith. "For example, if you are learning a new concept – not just something you can memorize, but something that requires a new cognitive strategy – we look to see what kind of sleep is attached to that."

As one of four institutions affiliated with the Centre for Biological Timing and Cognition, Trent University received a significant funding contribution from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) Fund to build the new lab, which houses three bedrooms, a control room, washroom, a task acquisition room, and an evoked responses recording room. Aside from the freshly painted walls and tastefully decorated bedrooms, Professor Smith stresses that the new equipment is what makes the lab truly exceptional, "Now we have equipment with which we can do so many more things than just looking at the basics of sleep," he said.

Professor Smith joined the Department of Psychology at Trent in 1972 after completing post doctorate study with Michel Jouvet, one of the pioneers of research on sleep physiology, in Lyon, France. After approximately ten years of studying sleep in rats, Professor Smith moved on to create a small lab at Trent to study sleep patterns in humans. Since having the opportunity to turn the smaller labs into this new innovative research facility, Professor Smith could not be happier. With a full-time certified technician and undergraduate and graduate students working in the lab, there is the ability to collect more data than ever before.

To date, the first phase of the project, aimed at collecting data on the link between learning motor tasks and Stage 2 sleep, is nearly complete. The second stage, which will study the impact of cognitive learning on REM sleep patterns, is set to begin this summer with the entire project scheduled for completion by the end of the year. Asked to comment on what has been the most interesting finding so far, Professor Smith pauses briefly before responding, "Discovering the amount of REM sleep is also related to a level of intelligence. These were two things I didn't think would be correlated."

The impact of sleep on intelligence and learning is something that Professor Smith finds personally fascinating. And as the research continues, he becomes more and more of an advocate for promoting a good night's sleep as the answer to achieving one's full potential.

"It is becoming more and more clear that bad sleep does have an impact on performance," he said. "And that becomes a bit of a concern when you think that everyone you count on, from doctors to police officers and airline pilots, have horrendous day-night patterns…Personally, I don't care who it is, if a high IQ and lower IQ doctor were standing side-by-side, I would take the one who had a good sleep, every time."

In addition to exploring the links between sleep and learning, innovative research is also being undertaken at the Sleep Lab in relation to the connections between sleep, memory, and aging. As part of Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR) and Alzheimer's Society of Canada grants, Professor Smith, along with fellow psychology professor Kevin Peters, are conducting comparison research between younger and older people to show how sleep patterns affect memory as we age. This research puts Trent University on the leading edge of sleep research in relation to an aging population.

Whether you are young or old, a man or a woman, a student or a doctor, Professor Smith has the same advice for everyone who wants to be successful and able to perform at their best: "Go to bed and get more sleep. It sounds simple, but it is the best thing you can do for yourself."  

Posted June 13, 2006





























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