SPA Lab’s Inaugural Sleep Week Emphasizes Link Between Sleep and Wellbeing

On Monday, Nov. 12, the University’s Sleep and Psychosocial Adjustment Lab (SPA) launched its inaugural Sleep Week. Aimed at improving students’ health and wellness, Sleep Week consisted of daily events which raised awareness about the importance of sleep.

Planned events included a photo and video campaign, an interactive session with Assistant Professor of Psychology Royette Tavernier, a documentary screening, and prize giveaways like sleep masks and stress balls. The initiative concluded on Friday with a trivia night in Usdan Cafe.

“I wanted to know how students perceived sleep in relation to their wellbeing and to gain some insight into the culture of sleep among their peers,” Tavernier said. “So my team and I came up with the idea for Sleep Week to give students an opportunity to learn more about the research we do in the lab, as well as to engage in discussions about sleep and wellbeing.”

The SPA lab examines the link between sleep and psychosocial adjustment—a reflection of an individual’s psychological wellbeing that is influenced by their experiences in the social arena. Directed by Tavernier, the lab focuses its research on late childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood. In past years, Tavernier has published findings in journals such as the Journal of Sleep Research, Journal of Youth and Adolescence, and Developmental Psychology, among others.

“Although the field of sleep research is relatively new, there have been significant breakthroughs in research on sleep deprivation, chronic sleep loss, and insomnia,” Tavernier said. “Additionally, a number of experimental studies have shown negative implications of inadequate sleep for memory and other indices of cognitive functioning.”

According to the National Sleep Foundation, young adults (ages 18-25) should aim for seven to nine hours of sleep per night. However, results from their 2018 Sleep in America poll reveal that many struggle to prioritize sleep, and that this may be especially relevant for young adults, who represent the demographic with the lowest sleep duration scores. Findings suggested that just 10 percent of American adults prioritize their sleep over other aspects of daily living like work and social life.

“Many students I talk to feel like they can’t make sleep a priority,” Tavernier said. “This saddens and worries me a lot.”

Additionally, the Sleep in America poll found that 90 percent of U.S. adults with excellent sleeping health feel very effective at getting things done each day, while only 46 percent reported the same with poor sleep health.

“Sleep is a huge determining factor of both the quality and longevity of life,” Tavernier said. “I hope students can feel empowered to prioritize sleep. There is so much that goes on in the brain while we sleep that benefits our memory and our ability to regulate our emotions.”

Research results from the SPA lab’s studies have identified similar as well as more nuanced effects of sleep for students at the University.

“Specifically, research findings from the Sleep and Psychosocial Adjustment lab [based on a sample of Wesleyan students] have indicated significant differences in sleep disturbance, alcohol use, and mental health between student-athletes and non-athletes,” Tavernier said. “These findings are relevant to Wesleyan students for understanding not just what happens as a result of poor sleep, but also what factors predict our ability to get a good night’s sleep.

Once these predictive factors have been identified and understood, Tavernier said that the community will be better able to target those specific factors within programs aimed at promoting sleep at the University.

One way students can prioritize sleep is with knowledge about chronotypes, which represent being a morning or night person. Some individuals naturally prefer to both go to sleep and wake up early while others may favor late nights and sleeping in. However, most individuals fall somewhere in between the two extremes.

To address the topic of chronotypes, Sleep Week had planned a screening of  “The Secret Life of your Body Clock” in Judd Hall on Thursday, Nov. 15, although weather conditions ultimately meant the event had to be canceled. The BBC documentary tackles questions such as why one is more likely to have a heart attack at 8 a.m. and more likely to crash their car at 2 p.m.

Tavernier recommends that college students attempt to schedule according to their chronotype when options permit. For example, someone who prefers to wake up early and not stay up late should try to opt for earlier classes.

“Instead of thinking about sleep as something to do when your body is tired, I hope students can think about sleep as something to do to boost brain functioning,” Tavernier said.

 

Spencer Dean can be reached at srdean@wesleyan.edu.

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