Harvard Extension School, Psyc E-1440

Sleep and Mental Health

Course head: Edward F. Pace-Schott, Ph.D.

Course description: In the past several decades, exciting new discoveries on the neurobiology of sleep have been facilitated by technologies such as functional neuroimaging and molecular genetics. Sleep science exemplifies the translational approach in biomedical science whereby investigators in human and animal research work together to continually advance the field of sleep medicine. Scientific findings increasingly point to the importance of sleep for mental health and optimum performance, as well as to sleep disruption as both a result and potential cause of mental illness. In psychiatric neuroscience, sleep is an area of both unquestionableimportance and one in which many fundamental questions remain unanswered due to the unique challenges of studying human sleep.Despite rapidly accelerating new discoveries and ever-increasing knowledge about the mechanisms and correlates of sleep, much about sleep remains controversial. Remarkably, there still is no scientifically agreed upon “function” for this behavioral state that occupies one third of our lives! Why should reasons for a behavior as universal as sleep remain mysterious? My great curiosity about sleep is continuously stimulated by such questions. By the end of the semester, I very much hope that participants in this seminar will become similarly fascinated with this enigma that exists right under our noses, and perhaps some may choose tofurther explore this exciting area of neuroscience. In this seminar, each student will have the opportunity to ponder and form their own opinions on the functions of sleep, as well as to focus, in depth, on one aspect of sleep that they find evokes their greatest scientific curiosity. While the seminar will emphasize mental health and sleep medicine, my goal is for students to consider our daily alternation in states of consciousness from many perspectives. These might include sleep’s restorative role atthe level of genes and their protein products, sleep’s manifestation across animal taxa, its possible evolutionary history and present ecology, sleep’s influence on brain development and maturation, societal influences on sleep (and vice versa), and how and why consciousness should emerge during sleep in the form of dreams. Following lectures that will provide an overview of the physiology and behavioral neuroscience of sleep, students in this seminar will choose a topic related to sleep and mental health that they will research in depth. Such topics might include the characteristic abnormalities of sleep occurring in mood, anxiety, psychotic, addictive, autism spectrum or neurodegenerative disorders. Such changes are increasingly seen as bidirectional, with sleep disturbances contributing to the waking symptoms of these mental disorders as well as being the result of such disorders. Other topics might include the contribution of primary sleep disorders to psychiatric illnesses such as links between sleep apnea and depression, circadian rhythm disorders and bipolar illness, or insomnia as a risk factor for mood and anxiety disorders. Additional topics might focus on the contribution of normal sleep to emotional regulation, memory consolidation and human performance factors as well as neuroimaging studies of cognitive and emotional functioning following sleep deprivation. Still other topics might include the role of sleep in the trafficking and disposal of abnormal proteins during sleep –disruption of which might constitute an important pathway in the development of neurodegenerative illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease.

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