University of Chicago Big Ideas Generator


Big Question: Does inadequate sleep have long-term impact on the simplest of (nervous) systems?

University of Chicago Big Questions

Principal Investigator: David Biron, Physics

Funding Type: Vision

Focus Area: Cognition

Big Idea: 

Sleep is widely recognized as important yet it is poorly understood. During development, neurons must connect correctly with their synaptic partners. Adequate sleep is crucial for this process. Disruptions to sleep are common during childhood and adolescence and undermine health and emotional, cognitive, and social development. Our goal is to understand key conserved mechanisms connecting sleep and appropriate development. A simple system could provide foundational insight into this complex problem. The nematode Caenorhabditis elegans offers genetic tractability and an easy-to-manipulate nervous system. We hypothesize that disrupting nematode sleep will cause lasting functional deficits. However, nematode sleep is controversial and the consequences of deprivation have been minimally explored. We propose a stepping-stone to understanding how complex interactions between sleep and development evolved and may be conserved.

With the long hour culture becoming increasingly prevalent, understanding sleep will affect life style choices and workplace policies, thus promoting personal and societal progress. Evidence for economic and social costs of insufficient sleep is abundant but does not easily alter habits and policies. Sleeping nematodes rarely fail to grab attention at all ages and serve as an excellent conversation starter about sleep. A simple model can therefore literally and figuratively change the way we think.


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