Baylor lab conducts research on sleep, memory

The Baylor Sleep Neuroscience and Cognition Laboratory explores the ways sleep impacts memory and cognition while promoting healthy sleeping habits through their findings. Courtesy photo.

By Corrie Coleman | Reporter

The Baylor Sleep Neuroscience and Cognition Laboratory, founded in 2015, works to conduct research on sleep and its effects on the body. The lab explores the ways sleep impacts memory and cognition while promoting healthy sleeping habits in students through its findings.

Humans spend nearly one-third of their life sleeping, Frisco junior Taylor Terlizzese, senior research assistant at the lab, said. He believes that research on sleep is crucial to science.

“I think it’s really important to figure out biologically why sleep is so important,” Terlizzese said. “[We want to] improve sleep for those who have poor sleep quality and also to convince people that they need to get better sleep.”

The lab, located in downtown Waco, contains three identical bedrooms, all furnished with a bed, a dresser, a desk with a computer and a bedside table. Study participants spend the night in these rooms after being fitted with electrodes that monitor their brain activity while they sleep.

Frisco junior Nikita Chapagain is a research assistant at the lab. She explained that for most studies, participants spend about two or three nights in the lab.

“We try to get them in bed by 10 or 10:30 and they wake up at 7. They spend the whole night here,” Chapagain said. “We have a sleep technician who stays here all night and monitors their sleep.”

Chapagain said students get paid to participate in studies. Last semester, students were paid $100 to spend two nights in the lab.

Last semester’s study researched the effects of classical music during sleep on memory. Participants watched an online lecture on microeconomics while listening to classical music. Then, as they slept, the same music was played. A control group watched the lecture as well but listened to white noise as they slept.

“We woke them up and tested them on the stuff that they learned the night before and it was true,” Chapagain said. “The people who had classical music played again while they were asleep, they performed better on the test.”

The lab’s team refers to current literature on sleep to develop their own studies.

“We look at the existing literature and we see, ‘Where are the gaps? What needs to be improved on?’” Terlizzese said. “Then we all sit around the table and have this big discussion about how we’re going to put the study together.”

Terlizzese said he first heard about the sleep lab when Dr. Michael Scullin, the principal investigator of the lab, came to speak in his neuroscience class.

“He shared his research with us and I thought it was so cool how, at night the brain seems like it’s just sitting there but it’s actually doing a lot of interesting things,” Terlizzese said.

Terlizzese said when he first began working at the lab, he took a sleep measurement test and found that the quality of his sleep was very poor. Now, after two years of researching the benefits of sleep, Terlizzese scores within the top few percentile.

“I feel a lot more productive during the day if I get a good night’s sleep. Before, I was trying to fit everything in. I felt so busy and I didn’t have time to sleep,” Terlizzese said. “But if I sleep at night, I can get more done during the day. Definitely 10 out of 10 would recommend sleeping.”