Scientists from the University of Lincoln have launched a new research laboratory to explore the mysteries of sleep.
The Sleep and Cognition (SaC) Laboratory in the University's School of Psychology will be the base for cutting-edge studies into the links between sleep, memory and cognition and internationally-significant research into the causes of and most effective treatments for sleep disorders.
The centre has been established by Dr Simon Durrant, one of the country’s foremost experts on the science of sleep, who will be working with academic colleagues and research students from across the institution on developing and running experiments which can answer questions about this fundamental but mysterious element of our lives.
The SaC Lab at Lincoln is one of only three research centres of its kind in UK universities.
The facility consists of two rooms: one with a bed and black-out blinds where volunteers are invited to drift off to sleep; and a control room equipped with a computer where researchers can monitor their volunteers using EEG (Electroencephalography) equipment.
The EEG consists of a series of sensors which are attached painlessly to the scalp of volunteers to record electrical activity in the brain while they are asleep. This brain activity is represented as a series of traces on the computer screen.
The researchers can analyse these patterns to identify what stages of sleep their subjects are in.
These sleep stages hold the key to understanding the relationship between sleep and certain cognitive functions, such as recalling memories or learning new skills.
Dr Durrant said: "We spend roughly a third of our lives asleep but we know almost nothing about why we and other species need to sleep.
"It is difficult to explain in simple evolutionary terms. Sleep might offer some selective advantages through energy conservation, but this is likely to be outweighed by the increased risk of falling prey to predators while unconscious.
"It seems there must be other crucial evolutionary benefits to sleep which are not obvious to the naked eye.
"Recent studies are starting to unravel the complex but fascinating relationship between sleep, memory and cognition. We hope through our work here at Lincoln to better understand the mysteries of sleep and with it to find new ways of treating common sleep disorders, which affect millions of people in the UK alone."
The research team are interested in hearing from people in the East Midlands region who have experienced problems sleeping – whether they have been diagnosed with a sleep disorder or not.
People interested in discussing taking part in studies with the researchers in the Sleep Lab can contact Dr Simon Durrant on email@example.com
or visit the research participation page on the team’s website http://sleep.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk/participation