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Ohio Northern's sleep lab is helping students get sleep better and gain research experience.

Professor of Psychology, Dr. Megan Clegg-Kraynok, answering questions about the sleep lab she established (Northern Review photo/Sage Caughenbaugh).

Professor of Psychology, Dr. Megan Clegg-Kraynok, answering questions about the sleep lab she established (Northern Review photo/Sage Caughenbaugh).

“[College students have terrible sleep habits] because they feel they can do it all; or that they have no choice but to do it all. In college, you want to experience life, but you also have responsibilities. Because of this understanding, the thing that seems the easiest to sacrifice is sleep.”

Sleep is a crucial aspect of students life that often is one that gets pushed to the side for “more important." College student specifically tend to have terrible and unique sleep habits. This is one of the reasons professor of psychology, Dr. Megan Clegg-Kraynok, started her sleep lab.

Dr. Kraynok first became interested in sleep during her masters program. While working at a psychological lab, a sleep specialist came in. After hearing the specialist speak, Dr. Kraynok experienced a realization.

[After his talk] I was like wow, it sounds like sleep may be related to all of these other issues like depression. And in fact, there was tons of research that says yes that’s true. But being a twenty-one-year-old graduate student who was unfamiliar with the field, I was like ‘I’m coming up with all of these phenomenal things.’"

Soon after finishing her masters, she knew she wanted to go into a Ph.D. program, and was interested in sleep. She then applied to a development program with a professor whose focus is sleep and got accepted. All of her graduate research and her Ph.D. program was in development and sleep. “We did a study looking at new mom sleep. My Ph.D. looked at college students using psychostimulant drugs like Adderall, either as prescribed or illicitly.”​

When Dr. Kraynok applied to work at Ohio Northern. She had to show the university how she would continue her research.​

“[the university] was really, really concerned I would come in and need a bed and a lab, and I need all of this expensive equipment. And I was like, that not really what I do. So I laid out the kind of stuff that I do, and it’s really doable even in a small place like ONU and Ada.”​

Thus, the sleep lab at ONU was born.​

Dr. Kraynok is not running the lab this semester but has run it in the past with the help of students. Kraynok and her assistants focus specifically on the sleep habits of college students in the lab. Though the sleep lab was originally designed to help Dr. Kraynok’s research, she says she continues the lab because of the students.​

“Honestly, the only reason I still do research is so that students get experience. I love sleep as a field. But to be totally honest, it’s cumbersome and sometimes hard to do research. But I like doing it because I get to work with students. I get to foster some of that passion, yes for sleep, but also for doing research and understanding how the process works."​

Hayley O’Hara was one of the students who assisted Dr. Kraynok with her research. She became interested in the lab after wanting to be more involved on campus, and the subject of sleep jumped out at her. While O’Hara was not having sleep problems of her own, she found the sleep lab helpful. “Being involved in the sleep research lab definitely made me realize how important my own sleep schedule is, and helped me to change my habits.”​

She also found being involved in the lab helpful for the future. “It helped build my skills in research methods, and gave me great experience that was key in getting accepted into graduate school.”​

Kraynok has found sharing her knowledge in class has been the most effective for helping students change their sleep habits. She tries to spend at least a week in each of her course talking about sleep.​

I want students to understand why things happen and to be able to optimize their sleep. I have had students come up to me and say ‘Oh after you talked to me about sleep apnea, I realized my dad has sleep apnea, and now he has a machine and is getting treatment.’ It’s not so much in my lab but doing almost an in-service in my classes has made a difference.”​

Dr. Kraynok is feeling the lack of sleep with a five-month-old baby at home. Her knowledge of development and sleep does not help with the sleep deprivation, or her child's or her behavior, but it helps her feel calmer because she realizes that what is happening is normal.

 

Sharing some tips to improve one’s sleep and sleeping habits is easy, but she says they are not easy to implement, “It’s easier said than done.” She goes on to recommend, maintaining sleep time and wake time every day, the reliability of sleep makes your sleep better. Limit your cell phone use and caffeine intake before bed; caffeine has a half-life of six hours, meaning after six hours there is still half the amount of caffeine in the body.

She emphasizes not studying in your bed because you do not want the stress of studying being linked to your bed. She also encourages getting a sleep mask, earplugs, and a white noise machine.​

“Dorms are really loud, and especially during finals, you have people studying well into the night. So if your roommate has the light on you don’t want that interfering.”​

While Dr. Kraynok recommends taking these steps for better sleep, she is aware it is not possible especially as college students living in dorms, but she often finds that just letting students know can make them more aware.​

Along with giving students tips about sleep and volunteering to judge events. Dr. Kraynok is the advisor for a couple of organizations, Mortar Board and the psychology, sociology, and criminal justice club. She tries to be as involved with these groups as possible; currently, she has large boxes of goods to donate to both clubs “Fill the Fireplace.”​

“I went to a school like ONU, so I feel a school like this is not a school. It’s a community. So when you're a part of a community, it's part of your responsibility to give back.”​

In the future, Kraynok hopes to expand the lab to older adults. She identifies that older adults have specific sleep problems that the rest of the population do not have. “Like feeling tired early in the night, waking early in the morning. They get worried about it. So I think just doing informational things, where they are like oh, this is supposed to happen, can be useful.”