Future in Review: High School Topical Review in Sleep Science Contest

Aug. 18, 2011
By Doug Dusik

  Julia Deutsch, this year’s winner of the American Sleep Medicine Foundation High School Topical Review in Sleep Science Contest, was comparing the cognitive performance of adolescents in the morning vs. afternoon when she learned a valuable lesson most veteran researchers probably take for granted: You have to expect the unexpected.

“In a research project, there’s always something that goes wrong. The computer crashes or you accidentally close a software program right before you need it,” Deutsch said. “It’s a lot of work but I enjoyed it. It’s nice when all your work culminates in a finished project.”

Deutsch was one of 16 students who submitted their original research for review. A committee of noted physicians and researchers in the sleep community scored each essay according to guidelines adopted from the National Institutes of Health. All contest entries were published online in conjunction with the June issue of the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

American Sleep Medicine Foundation President Steven A. Shea, Ph.D., informed Deutsch by letter that she’d won the contest and a $1,000 U.S. Savings Bond as a scholarship award. He noted that her work was “intuitive, well-written and offered insight for future research directions.”

Deutsch said that she has a history of adolescent delayed sleep phase disorder (DSP), a circadian rhythm sleep disorder that consists of a typical sleep pattern that is "delayed" by two or more hours. DSP occurs when one’s internal sleep clock – the “circadian rhythm” – is shifted later at night and later in the morning.

DSP is what piqued Deutsch’s early interest in sleep medicine, which later became her area of study for a three-year science program she enrolled in at Scarsdale High School in Scarsdale, N.Y.

Sponsored by the University of Albany, the science program paired her with a mentor, Montreal psychologist Christine Ury, who helped Deutsch develop the topic for her paper, “The Effect of Time of Day on Cognitive Function in Adolescents.”

Deutsch used the NeuroTrax Corp. online cognitive assessment to measure the verbal and math skills of about 180 ninth graders in the morning and afternoon, comparing performance with the amount of sleep the student reported getting the night before. The results suggested markedly different levels of performance in the mornings and afternoons. Students performed better at verbal functions in the morning and at response inhibition (go/no go) functions in the afternoon.

“It was an unpredictable but rewarding experience,” Deutsch said. “I plan on continuing to do research in college. I will be attending Johns Hopkins University, which is an excellent research institution.”

In addition to the scholarship, Deutsch also received a trip to SLEEP 2011 in Minneapolis, where she was recognized and given a plaque during the American Academy of Sleep Medicine General Membership Meeting on Monday, June 13. Her father, Mark, also attended.

“I was overwhelmed by all the research going on there,” she said. “I saw the booths and the posters. There was also a talk about the general structure of research projects. It was really interesting.”

Deutsch learned a little something about networking, too. “Someone from Johns Hopkins approached me and told me to contact him if I’m interested in doing research at school,” she said.

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