The inherent association between sleep and mental health is one that has been dissed and dismissed in the past. Comments, anecdotes, alongside investigation and research has eluded to the role that sleep may play in mental health, and vice versa how mental health can play a role in sleep.
I am a second year MRC Clinical Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomics PhD student investigating the role of sleep in children and adolescents with 22q11.2 deletion syndrome (22q11.2 DS).
This rare genetic syndrome has a prevalence of 1 in ~2,000-4,000 live births. It is characterised by the loss of a relatively large section of DNA on the large ‘arm’ (q) at point ‘11.2’ on the 22nd chromosome, which contains ~40 genes of different functionalities.
These genes control physical, psychiatric and neurological activities in humans. With these genes missing, it means that these individuals are predisposed to the development of multiple psychiatric and physical problems but little is known about sleep in this population. These individuals have a 25-30% increased risk for schizophrenia one of the most prominent psychiatric conditions to have a defined and problematic relationship with sleep.
Investigation into the relationship between sleep and psychiatric conditions in these children is therefore a high priority. I intend to begin to understand the association between sleep and psychiatric conditions in 22q11.2 DS as not only is increased risk for schizophrenia evident, but increased prevalence of other conditions such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum conditions, anxiety and neurological conditions like epilepsy. Sleep is a factor in all of these conditions, but to what extent does it play a role in these conditions in 22q11.2 DS? Understanding the world of sleep in depth would help me on my journey to uncovering sleep in these children.
Being relatively new to sleep research, I cherish any opportunity that presents itself to explore the field further. Interacting with other like-minded individuals in sleep and circadian neuroscience can only be beneficial. I am fortunate enough to have a colleague who is ‘in-the-know’ with regards to sleep medicine, having been to the Summer School previously. As a result, I applied to attend this year and was fortunate enough to be accepted onto this alongside 59 other individuals. This was an opportunity to delve deep into the world of sleep and immerse myself in the subject with like-minded individuals.
The Oxford University, Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute (https://www.ndcn.ox.ac.uk/research/sleep-circadian-neuroscience-institute) is a world-class institute investigating, innovating and communicating sleep and circadian neuroscience. Led by Professor Russel Foster, an internationally renowned circadian neuroscientist, this institute includes the expertise and knowledge of Professor Colin Espie, and Dr Simon Kyle.
The institute runs an annual summer school which brings together early-career scientists, clinicians and clinical psychologists from across the world to discuss and present their research. In addition, lectures were given by these world-leading experts during the week exposing us to the work done in Oxford and the UK, Germany and USA predominantly.
The dynamic of the summer school allowed for open discussion and ease of questioning. Each of the attendees were asked to present one Powerpoint slide with 90 seconds of discussion regarding their current research. This was challenging, yet was a great exercise in being able to summarise my work and communicate it effectively and with clarity in a short period.
We also did group presentations regarding circadian neuroscience – with our group focussing on the evolution of circadian rhythmicity starting with dinosaurs! We each presented our posters regarding our research. This was a brilliant opportunity to hear about the work being done both in the UK and abroad. Having the option to mingle with everyone in a relaxed and informal setting was a great chance to hear about the research being undertaken, making some great connections and also some friends in the field.
Being at the summer school enabled me to explore sleep in a way I haven’t been able to previously. Having sleep scientists and circadian neuroscientists surrounding me in the same setting taught me a lot both with regards to the biology of sleep as well techniques and studies. It helped inform my own research, making a difference in the way I approach it and the techniques I use. The week showed me how to best investigate my topic and what I need to do and use to be successful in the field of sleep.
Hayley Moulding receives PhD funding from MRC (Medical Research Council)