AU researchers granted millions for sleep study

March 12, 2009

By Chris Vessell bio | email

AUBURN, AL (WTVM) - An Auburn University study is receiving more than $3 million dollars over the next five years to study sleep deprivation. U.S. Senator Richard Shelby announced on Wednesday that the team would be receiving $682,071 for this year alone.

"This is especially important because of the epidemic we're having right now in America with around 30% of children indicating they have chronic sleep deprivation," said Dr. Mona El-Sheikh, Auburn University College of Human Sciences.

"In the long-term sense of chronic sleep deprivation, we've got a problem. It can lead to not only learning problems in children, but behavior problems as well," said Dr. Joesph Buckhalt, Auburn University College Education. The Auburn team learned on Wednesday, they would be receiving the funding from the National Institute of Health, enough to conduct an extensive study.

Children in the study are monitored as they sleep using a device placed on their wrist. "They are very small watch-like devices that are called octographs that not only monitor sleep children get, but also the quality of sleep like tossing and turning, sleep fragments, and getting up at night," El-Sheikh said .

After a week of wearing the watch, the children are invited in for more analysis. "We attach the children to electrodes, very thin wires so they're not intrusive at all, and we measure childrens' heart rates, blood pressure, their physiological systems," El-Sheikh said.

Dr. El Sheikh and Dr. Buckhalt say they plan to identify more than 400 children in the Lee County area and follow their development over the next five years. It's a massive research effort they say will provide paths for intervention. "We have some important information, and now more importantly we have the science to back it up," Buckhalt said.

Letters will soon be sent out to local schools asking families volunteer their children for the study. Researchers plan to start using the money to start hiring graduate assistants as soon as next week.