Dr. Benjamin Rusak

Dr. Benjamin Rusak

Dr. Benjamin Rusak

Neuroscience

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzs fuel our brains and bodies:

Through a combination of animal and human research, Dr. Ben Rusak, research director and professor in Dalhousie Medical School’s Department of Psychiatry, is studying the relationship between sleep and how the body works.

“We know that sleep loss has an impact on our mental and physical performance, but we know relatively little about how it affects the physiology of our bodies and brains,” says Dr. Rusak. “A greater understanding could have huge implications for treatments.”

One of Dr. Rusak’s interests is in how sleep affects the ability to acquire and retain new information. He is exploring whether the familiar afternoon nap or “siesta” can help with learning. “It’s possible that an afternoon nap may help us to retain what we learned earlier in the day,” says Dr. Rusak. “This is supported by evidence that overnight sleep is needed to integrate new learning into what we already know.”

Dr. Rusak also collaborates with others to study the relationship between sleep and how people experience pain; the impact of sleep on mental illness; patterns of sleep in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD); and how sleep loss affects hormone rhythms, metabolism and appetite.

“If we find that altered sleep patterns can reduce the experience of pain, sleep-based treatments could be developed. This may reduce the need for medications which often have negative side effects,” says Dr. Rusak. Similarly, it may be possible to improve the quality of life for people with mental illness by altering sleep patterns, or reduce the impact of sleep loss on metabolism and appetite.

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