Imagine participating in a sleep study to figure out why you never wake up in the morning feeling refreshed. You might go to the sleep clinic early in the evening in order to be examined and prepped before laying down for what you hope is a good night’s sleep. That sounds pretty innocuous, doesn’t it? Now imagine that same sleep study taken to the next level with a thorough physical examination, dinner and alcohol, and a list of activities designed to stimulate the brain.
What we just described is actually happening at a sleep clinic being run by the Michigan Tech Sleep Research Laboratory. In conjunction with the National Institutes of Health, MTU is conducting a study they hope will help researchers better understand how alcohol consumption affects sleep among people at various stages of life.
The study involves putting participants through a series of tests that simulate varying degrees of alcohol consumption and related brain activity. Researchers ultimately hope to understand how alcohol consumption affects sleep and, subsequently, how the sleep habits of alcohol users might relate to cardiovascular disease.
Putting Them Through the Paces
Participating in the study is not for the faint of heart. Participants arrive during the late afternoon only to be subjected to a complete medical exam right from the start. The exam includes a blood draw, a urine sample, an arterial stiffness measurement, and more. Participants are then fed dinner followed by reclining to rest for about 30 minutes.
Following the rest period, participants are then subjected to simulated binge drinking and a plethora of tests to measure the sedative effects of alcohol. The first round of tests is followed by more alcohol and then a second round of tests before participants lay down to sleep.
All of the tests are designed to measure both the physical and mental effects of alcohol. When it comes time to sleep, participants are hooked up to a number of sensors that monitor everything from blood pressure to heart rate. Monitoring continues throughout the night with all the data being fed into computers that will eventually analyze it according to specific parameters.
Processing the Data
For the study participants, it’s all over when they wake up the next morning and complete a final round of tests. But for researchers, the fun is just beginning. All the data compiled through each individual study is run through computer software and designed to figure out just what’s going on during sleep.
The computers rely on signal processing algorithms to extract the required data for any given parameter. And because most of the data streams include significant noise, researchers rely on accurate signal processing to achieve the desired results.
The integrity of the resulting data is only as reliable as the integrity of the signal processing used to create it, explains Rock West Solutions. Rock West engineers say the signal processing is really what makes studies like this one possible. It allows MTU researchers to make sense of extremely fine data points that were previously obscured by noise.
Better Sleep in the Future
Researchers at MTU intend to learn as much as they can about the effects of alcohol on sleep and cardiovascular disease. They have already discovered that a lack of sleep affects men and women differently, and they suspect there could be other differences based on age, individual activity, sleep habits, and so forth.
Finding ways to achieve better sleep in the future is the ultimate goal here. If we Americans can get better sleep more consistently, we should be healthier as a result.