A Hands-on Look at the Science of Sleep

By Rohan Jain ’20

After Dr. Eve Van Cauter, a sleep expert at the University of Chicago, dedicated much of her time and effort to Parker students this year by spending time in the classrooms, administering a survey to collect data on Parker sleep and giving multiple speeches, she was generous enough to offer students the opportunity to visit the University of Chicago Institute for Translational Medicine (ITM) Clinical Research Center.

The transition from learning about Rapid Eye Movement sleep, sleep stages and sleep disorders in Dr. Van Cauter’s Parker lecture to observing an eye-opening experience of how these terms and methods are applied in the laboratory setting was extraordinarily smooth. Our experience began in the lobby of UChicago’s Bernard Mitchell Hospital where one of Dr. Van Cauter’s research coordinators escorted us to the laboratory. As we entered the lab, a friendly, energetic clinician named Harry greeted us and showed us around the clinic.

In reflecting upon her experience at the clinic, senior Jenna Mansueto shared, “It was really interesting to learn about how sleep is studied and made me even more aware of how unhealthy all of our sleep habits are.”

During our visit, we were able to enter the bedrooms where many of the sleep studies and tests are conducted and interact with a patient who was undergoing testing. Harry took us into his joint office where we observed the brain waves and listened to the patient as she was being monitored through a camera.

When asked about the experience, junior Isabel Olesinski offered, “It was fascinating watching sleep scientists work with a patient right in front of us. We got to view the patient’s brain waves from up close and see numerous studies performed as well.”

After the tour of the clinic, we took the elevator up to the ITM Clinical Research Center, where Dr. Van Cauter gave us an excellent explanation of their work. With many bedrooms for clinical trials, lots of hard-working, passionate researchers and revolutionary DNA collecting machines, the UChicago sleep center has all the resources needed for a successful team.

In the Research Center, we observed a DNA collecting machine that took samples of skin swabs, blood, or hair and extracted the DNA in a machine that resembled a 3-D printer.

Junior Nicole Feitler said, “Visiting the sleep lab at the University of Chicago was a super cool experience. We were able to see the technology they use in order to perform different tests. I was able to gain a better understanding on the types of sleep disorders and how they are detected.”

Overall, the trip was both enjoyable and educational, providing us an in-depth look of what a day-in-the-life looks like in a sleep lab. As we concluded, Harry left us with words of wisdom on what to take away from the visit. “Medicine is a team effort,” he said. “Whether you are a technician, researcher or doctor, we all work together for one common goal of quality care for our patients.”

Click here for photos of this trip.
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