STEM SIGHTS: This Concordian investigates the impact of sleep on your brain
Ever wonder why you have a harder time falling asleep on some nights but not others? Or how a bad night’s rest can affect your cognitive abilities?
More specifically, the team is looking at how patterns of brain activity and the connectivity between different brain regions change with the quality of the previous night’s sleep.
‘This research will help us understand why some people are more vulnerable to sleep deprivation’
How does this specific image (top) relate to your research at Concordia?
Data acquisition is central to our research, and we use electrodes like these, placed on the scalp, to monitor the bio-electrical activity of the brain during the whole night.
This test is called an electroencephalogram (EEG), and it is essential for assessing the quality of the sleep of our participants. It measures how long different sleep stages are and detects sleep-specific EEG discharges and waves.
In our research we also combine a high-density EEG test — a cap with 256 electrodes — with a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) procedure. This allows us to monitor brain bio-electrical activity (using EEG) at the same time as we measure the blood flow response elicited by neuronal activity (using fMRI).
The tests have different imaging modalities: the EEG, which provides a signal, gives a good temporal resolution, while the MRI, which produces an image of the brain, gives a good spatial resolution.
Acquiring fMRI data simultaneously with EEG data allows us to detect which brain regions are activated during specific events. These events can be stimuli manipulated during specific cognitive tasks or neuronal discharges, such as different stages of sleep.
What are you hoping this project will achieve? And what effects do you see it having on people’s lives?
AJ: Studying sleep recovery will shed light on fundamental processes that link sleep deprivation and cognitive performance. Moreover, studying how brain regions communicate between themselves during the brain’s resting state will allow us to assess the underlying architecture of brain activity.
We can then compare the functional connectivity patterns after both a normal night of sleep and a night of sleep deprivation in order to see if sleep deprivation results in the reorganization of underlying brain networks.
This study will give us a better understanding of the mechanisms of ongoing activity in the brain, the effects of sleep deprivation on cognitive functions and how the brain recovers after sleep deprivation.
Moreover, this research will help us understand why some people are more vulnerable to sleep deprivation than others, and what brain mechanisms are involved in this vulnerability. Understanding these individual behaviours will help us prevent people from being sleep deprived, as well as help us promote good sleep hygiene.
What are some of the challenges you face in your research?
AJ: The major challenge in my research is coordinating everything, from participant recruitment to data acquisition, which involves several platforms and imaging modalities, as well as managing challenging data analysis issues.
This is a big project involving many people, and the protocol is complex and uses challenging methods, including EEG, MRI and a sleep environment. It is very demanding because I have to monitor and study people’s sleep over two nights, as well as sleep deprive them.
What inspired you to study this subject and get involved in the field?
AJ: I completed an internship with Thanh Dang-Vu, Concordia University Research Chair in Sleep, Neuroimaging and Cognitive Health, and Christophe Grova, associate professor in the Department of Physics during the summer of 2015.
Throughout the internship, I was in charge of analyzing simultaneous EEG and fMRI data acquired during sleep and specific memory tasks.
I was trained in advance method for analyzing EEG and fMRI data, acquiring the skills I required for this master’s in physics at the PERFORM Centre.
How can interested STEM students get involved in this line of research? What advice would you give them?
AJ: Because this project is so demanding, many students help during different parts of the project. Some are involved at night at the sleep lab, preparing the participant with the EEG, and staying overnight to monitor participants. Others are involved in EEG and fMRI data acquisition in the morning.
If students want to help with the study, they should contact Thanh Dang-Vu or Melodee Mograss, research associate with the PERFORM Sleep Lab.
If students want to be participants, they can contact me at: (514) 848-2424, ext. 3393, or by email.
What do you like best about being at Concordia?
AJ: Concordia offers a good opportunity to work in a multidisciplinary environment – in physics, neuroscience, engineering and physiology – and at the PERFORM Centre’s impressive facilities. I also have the chance to work in two great laboratories supervised by Thanh Dang-Vu in the Department of Exercise Science and Christophe Grova in the Department of Physics.
I have had the opportunity to learn a lot in the advanced neuroscience fields and medical imaging from my supervisors and lab mates.
Are there partners, agencies or other funding/support attached to your research?
AJ: The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) is funding our research project, and the PERFORM Centre and the Centre for Studies in Behavioural Neurobiology (CSBN) support my research.
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