Sleep - sometimes elusive but this researcher says it's vital for a healthy life
We’re continuing our theme of New Year New You segments, and if one of your resolutions is to get more sleep, you’re in luck as we revisit this interview with Dr. Lauren Whitehurst, an assistant professor of psychology from the College of Arts and Sciences. She talks about how sleep is tied to our emotions and how depriving ourselves of it opens the door to a myriad of health problems.
As some of you may know Dr. Greg Davis, our long-time medical reporter recently became a professor emeritus at the University of Kentucky…and he’s taking a few weeks in this new year to settle into his new life as a retiree. The good news for us is that he’ll still be bringing you more health news you can use in the near future.
Sleep is not a luxury but a necessity. You’d be surprised by how many people shortchange themselves when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep. This week on Dr. Greg Davis on Medicine we hear from Dr. Lauren Whitehurst, an assistant professor of psychology from the College of Arts and Sciences, on how sleep is tied to our emotions and how depriving ourselves of it opens the door to a myriad of health problems.
Research Interests: Sleep and Circadian Rhythms Autonomic Nervous System Memory Stress/Discrimination Cognitive Health Psychopharmacology Neuroimaging Non-invasive Stimulation Research What makes a night of sleep “good”? Staying asleep the whole night? Falling asleep once your head hits the pillow? Waking up refreshed and ready for your day? How does “good” sleep at night prepare you for a day filled with social interaction, cognitive challenges, and emotional tests? Psychological science is still grappling with the answers to this question, yet we do know that a period of sleep helps us think, learn and remember better. Additionally, specific neural changes during sleep, characterized with electroencephalography (EEG), support human cognitive function.
In my lab, we explore how these EEG features and specific changes in our body (i.e. autonomic nervous system) 1) help us define “good” sleep and 2) support cognition. We also examine how stress-sleep interactions impact cognitive function and the importance of sleep to the development of accelerated or pathological cognitive decline (e.g. dementia/Alzheimer’s disease). We are particularly interested in how the lack of access to restorative sleep can play a role in creating or exacerbating disparities in cognitive health for communities historically underserved by science and medicine in the US.
Dr. Whitehurst received her B.S. in Psychology and an M.A. in Experimental Psychology from James Madison University in 2011 and 2013, respectively and her PhD in Psychology from the University of California, Riverside in 2018. She completed a Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Fellowship in the Center for Health and Community and the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco in 2020. She is currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Kentucky. She is also Core Faculty in the Center for Health Equity Transformation and affiliated faculty in the Department of African American and Africana Studies at the University of Kentucky.