The Science of Sleep

Herve Collin, Department of Math and Science, Kapi’olani Community College

A 2008 SENCER Model

Science of Sleep Cover

Course Learning Goals for Instructors and Students

Course Description

Kapi’olani Community College’s The Science of Sleep (PHYL 160) is an interdisciplinary science course that fulfills the core undergraduate requirement in the life sciences for non-majors. The course provides an overview of the anatomy and physiology of the central nervous system as it is related to sleep, explores the impact of sleep deprivation on individuals, and engages students in authentic research as they conduct their own sleep experiment. The civic problem at the center of course is “sleep debt,” a term used to describe the cumulative effect of not getting enough sleep, and which has been identified by the NIH as serious and growing problem with wide ranging consequences for our mental and physical health, as well as for public safety. Unlike many other topics, sleep, and the lack of it, is something that everyone has experienced, and the knowledge the students gain about their own sleep has immediate relevance to their life and health.

Sleep is truly an interdisciplinary problem, and students must understand and be able to present concepts from biology (sleep phylogeny, circadian rhythms in nature, or sleep physiology), psychology (dreaming, primary insomnia, or excessive sleepiness), history (attitudes about and requirements for sleep change over time and are culturally specific) and neuroscience (sleep/wake regulation, maturational changes related to sleep or sleep disorders). Hands-on learning and guided scientific experimentation and data analysis is emphasized as students construct research project to assess their own sleep debt through nightly sleep journals, sleep surveys and actigraphy monitoring to record rest/activity cycles. This course, which was developed and supported by a grant from the NIH, has been taught continuously since 2002 and student enrollment has been at maximum capacity every semester.

Instructor Goals
The instructor’s goals are to provide an overview of the anatomy and physiology of the central nervous system as it is related to sleep, to explore the psychological and neurological impact of sleep deprivation on individuals, and to engage students in authentic research as they conduct their own sleep experiment.

The course proceeds from the assumption that student leaning will be improved if one could teach a science class where students have first hand knowledge and experience with the subject you are presenting. Unfortunately, our students gain nearly all of their knowledge from a textbook, from being told of experiences, or in a controlled laboratory exercise on a college campus.

The Science of Sleep course is very different from other life science courses because STUDENTS HAVE FIRST HAND EXPERIENCE WITH THE SUBJECT MATTER. Sleep, as a science, is a ubiquitous topic. Everyone from small children to the elderly has experienced the blissful feeling upon awakening from a great night of sleep, as well as the agony associated with prolonged episode of insomnia. This kind of experience is rare in most topics of science where the learner of the subject has first hand knowledge and experience that they can bring to the scientific process.

This automatically qualifies the student as a participant in the discussion and alters the typical student-instructor relationship. The topics within this course can span an enormous range of science concepts and academic disciplines. A biological emphasis might focus on sleep phylogeny (how different animals sleep), circadian rhythms in nature, or sleep physiology. A psychological emphasis could focus on dreaming, primary insomnia, or excessive sleepiness. A neuroscience theme would focus on sleep/wake regulation, maturational changes related to sleep or sleep disorders.

Student Goals
The primary focus of Kapi’olani Community College’s SCIENCE OF SLEEP (PHYL 160) course is SLEEP DEBT. Sleep debt is the cumulative effect of not getting enough sleep. In this course, the emphasis is not only on course content, but also on how students are able to demonstrate their acquired knowledge through direct experience. The student learning outcomes of this course include the following:

  • Identify and relate common topics and current issues in sleep science and human development.
  • Compare and contrast qualitative and quantitative data collection and analysis techniques.
  • Use the hypothesis driven scientific methods to design research projects.
  • Present their findings in a scientific format.

The Course


The Science of Sleep
(PHYL 160)

Instructor: Herve Collin Course PHYL 160
Office: Kokio 202F
Building: KOKIO209
Phone: 734-9388
Office hours: M:11:00-12:00
F :11:00-12:00


  • Basics of Sleep Behavior, WebSciences International and Sleep
    Research Society.
  • PubMED articles


An introduction to the science of sleep, sleep research and medical disorders associated with sleep. This course will include an overview of the anatomy and physiology of the central nervous system as it is related to sleep. This course will also introduce students to the impact of sleep deprivation on individuals. Finally, the student will be introduced to the scientific method triggered to sleep research and will apply this knowledge to conduct their own sleep experiment.


None, but basics of Physiology are suggested.


Upon successful completion of the course, the student should be able to:

  1. Demonstrate knowledge of how sleep is regarded in different cultures and environments.
  2. Demonstrate knowledge of the history of sleep research.
  3. Demonstrate an understanding of how sleep changes from infancy to the elderly.
  4. Demonstrate an understanding of polysomnography and other methods of analysis of sleep quality.
  5. Demonstrate knowledge of the anatomy and physiology of sleep centers in the central nervous system.
  6. Demonstrate knowledge of the neuroendocrines and their effects on sleep.
  7. Demonstrate an understanding of sleep stages, patterns and other features associated with sleep and sleep disorders.
  8. Utilize and interpret physiological signals to evaluate sleep quality and sleep disorders.
  9. Demonstrate an understanding of how researchers evaluate sleep quality and sleep disorders.
  10. Demonstrate an understanding of current theory of why we sleep and possible causes of sleep disorders.
  11. Demonstrate an understanding of time series characterization and analysis.
  12. Record data, analyze data, and extract information from data.
  13. Demonstrate understanding of the scientific method.


Articles and book reading will be given to students either in class or via email. The Web will be significant reading source as well as the above book (online). Computer facilities in Campus are located at the Computing Center (Iliahi) and the Library (Lama). Access to KOKIO 202 is available for students to watch required videos.


There will be one midterm, many projects and a final cumulative exam.

Topics – not in order

  • How is sleep measured? PSG
  • Sleep Characterization
  • Stages, hypnogram, Arousals
  • Sleep evolution with age,
  • Arousals, fragmentation
  • Sleepiness level, Phylogeny
  • Circadian Rhythm, workshift, jet
  • Lag, DSP,ASP.
  • Functions of sleep
  • Physiology of sleep
  • Sleep and the ANS, application to
  • HRV
  • Sleep and Brain
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Sleep and Drugs
  • Dreams
  • Sleep Disorder

This course is research and project oriented. Students will not be passive recipients of lecture delivery. Rather, students will be expected to act as active learners demonstrating their understanding of acquired through projects. Students will also be tested by one midterm and a cumulative final.


Your grade for this course will be based on three exams, projects and a cumulative final exam.

Midterm – 20%
Projects – 50%
Final Exam – 30%

The letter grade that you will earn in this course is based upon the following scale:

100 % – 90 % A
89 % – 80 % B
79 % – 70 % C
69 % – 60 % D
59 % and below F

Students are able to obtain their current class standing at any time during the semester.

Withdrawals from the Course and Incomplete Grade:

The Math/Science Department policy on Withdrawals from courses and Incomplete Grades is as follows:

1. Withdrawals (“W” Grade): After the “last day for withdrawals”, which is found on the calendar in the schedule of courses, the instructor will sign withdrawals only in cases of extreme or unusual circumstances. Grade related excuses are unacceptable. Examples of extreme or unusual circumstances are:

(a) a certified medical reason, or,
(b) a death in the family.

Students who no longer attend class and who DO NOT OFFICIALLY WITHDRAW from the course will receive “F” grades.

2. Incomplete (“I” Grade): Students must present the “Request for Incomplete Grade” form prior to the last day of instruction. “I” grades will be given only to students who are achieving passing grades and are very close to completing the course. In addition, the student must have a very good reason for not being able to complete all of the work on time. Examples of good reasons are the same as those listed under the “withdrawal policy” above.


Attendance is required. No exam make-ups are given except for extreme situations and only if notified to the instructor at least 24 hours in advance. No late assignment is accepted. Projects and exams are primarily based on course content, it is therefore crucial for students to be present. If the instructor is late to class, students may leave after fifteen (15) minutes.


Appropriate student conduct as defined by the Kapi’olani Community College Student Conduct Code will be expected of students at all times.


Extended time in a distraction-free environment is an appropriate accommodation based on a student’s disability. If you are a student with a documented disability and have not voluntarily disclosed the nature of your disability and the support you need, you are invited to contact the Disability Support Services Office, OEIlima 103, 734-9552 (V/T), for assistance.


The electronic communications policy adopted in December 2005 establishes the University of Hawai’i Internet service as an official medium for communication among students, faculty, and staff. Every member of the system has a address, and the associated username and password provide access to essential Web announcements and email. You are hereby informed of the need to regularly log in to UH email and Web services for announcements and personal mail. Failing to do so will mean missing critical information from academic and program advisors, instructors, registration and business office staff, classmates, student organizations, and others.

  1. Kapi’olani Community College is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Institution.
  2. Students are expected to attend all classes for which they are registered. If a student is unable to attend class, he or she should contact the instructor in advance to give notification of the absence and make the necessary arrangements.
  3. For those students who receive financial aid and fail to attend the first week of classes without making arrangements with the instructor, the instructor will submit the student’s name to the Financial Aid Office. The student will be denied financial aid for the class that he/she is not attending. In addition, it is solely the student’s responsibility to withdraw from the class or attend the class and pay tuition.

Course Design

Format and Pedagogies:

The PHYL 160 course promotes hands-on learning and guided scientific experimentation to allow students opportunities to assess their own sleep debt using nightly sleep journals, sleep surveys and actigraphy monitoring. Actigraphy is a relatively non-invasive method of monitoring human rest/activity cycles. The unit continually records the movements it undergoes. The data is later read to a computer where it can be analyzed.

Actigraph watch by used by students in PHYL 160

Actigraph Watch

The below diagram shows how the scientific method can be demonstrated using actigraphy as quantitative measurements and sleepiness level surveys (Epworth Sleep Survey) as qualitative measurements. Throughout the semester, students monitor their own sleep pattern and subject themselves to simple, controlled condition (respiration exercise) and record outcomes.

To emphasize and relate the interconnectivity of the topics to the symptoms, evaluation, causes, and solutions to sleep debt, PHYL 160 employs the following learning pedagogy to promotes positive study habits, synthesizes knowledge, demonstrates understanding, and to broaden understanding and opinions.

  1. Lectures are based on prior reading assigned to the students (source: book, Internet or articles) and are meant to summarize and clarify the knowledge gained by the students.
  2. Course discussions are an integral part of the lectures. Students are provoked to participate, consolidate their understanding and expand their knowledge or point of view on topics covered through the reading material.
  3. Hands-on activity are distributed throughout the semester, and provide opportunities to students to gain and/or consolidate their skills using spreadsheets, data tabulation, statistical calculations, tables, graphs, as well as basic word editing when necessary.
  4. Short videos are used as part of the learning experience and provide two purposes: consolidate their knowledge, expand their vision, and explore new point of views on covered topics.

Linking Science and Social Issues

How The Science of Sleep Links Interdisciplinary Science and Social Issues

The second most traded commodity in the world today is coffee (oil is largest) and other caffeine products (Thompson, 2006). Caffeine used as a psychoactive drug has become a staple in today’s society, and a good night’s sleep has become less important today than ever in history. Between 1970 and 1997, the amount of soft drinks (30-40 mg of Caffeine per 12 oz) produced in the United States has increased from 2.1 to 11.6 gallons per person per year, and the emergence of new ultra caffeine products such as Red Bull (80 mg of caffeine per 8 oz), and other “energy drinks” (caffeine dose <150 mg) are now becoming standard diet for youth in America (Smith, 2007). According to the National Sleep Foundation’s 1999 Omnibus Sleep Poll, the average amount of sleep in the United States has diminished to 6.58 hrs per night (an average of 7.8 hours is required to eliminate sleep debt), and 62% of adults experienced a sleep problem a few nights a week or more. Even more alarming is that in this information age, as we acquire more and more sleep debt, this trend seems to be increasing, and more likely to be involved in work place accident and drowsy driving accidents (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 1994). In fact, 62% of adults reported driving while feeling drowsy and 27% of adults have dozed off at the wheel (NSF, 1999).

Among high school and college students between the ages of 12 and 25, the lost of sleep has become an epidemic. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) have identified adolescents and young adults (ages 12 to 25 years) as a population at high risk for problem sleepiness based on “evidence that the prevalence of problem sleepiness is high and increasing with particularly serious consequences.” (NIH, 1997). Further, the NIH estimates that 85% of teens in the United States do not get the suggested amount of 8.5 hours of sleep a night.

A sleep survey conducted on approximately 280 students at Kapiolani Community College in Hawaii found a similar result. The following graphs demonstrate how sleep patterns change from the weekday to the weekends. The shift in sleep duration from the weekday nights to weekend night is a clear indication that students are maintaining a significant amount of sleep debt and are feeling an increasing pressure to sleep throughout the work week. The following diagram shows how this sleep debt is central to multiple topics related to human development and sleep science.

Evaluating Learning

Student Evaluation

Student grades are awarded via a midterm exam, one cumulative final exam and many short projects/papers involving the summary, and/or analysis of real sleep data, as well as a self-assessed sleep experiment developed during the semester.

Course Evaluation

The course evaluation and student learning assessment uses a modified SALG instrument developed by the SENCER project (SALG Site) that is specific to PHYL 160.

Background and Context

Course History

The Science of Sleep (PHYL 160) was developed, approved by the College’s Curriculum Committee and first taught by Dr. John Rand in Fall 2002 using a standard lecture format (non-SENCERized). The College accepted the course as a life science core requirement, and student enrollment has been at its maximum capacity every semester it has been taught. This is the only course of its kind within the University of Hawaii system and it is used to inspire and/or attract students to the fields of science as well as promote the scientific method and the importance of experimentation to non-science majors.

Initial funding for the development came from a grant from the National Institute of Health – IDeA Networks for Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE) and was intended to expand and develop Hawaii’s competitive biomedical research capacity. Funding from INBRE provided funds for faculty reassigned time to development the course and for the purchase of course materials including the actigraph watches.

Over the years numerous topics related to sleep science have been presented to undergraduates that include (naming a few):

  • Sleep Regulation
  • Sleep Function
  • Sleep Maturation
  • Sleep Phylogeny
  • Sleep Physiology
  • Sleep Pharmacology
  • Sleep Disorders
  • Polysomnography
  • Circadian Rhythms

In 2005, Mr. Collin began teaching the PHYL 160 course and with the help of Dr. Rand reintroduced the course using the SENCER model. Dr. Rand’s original idea of having students keep a sleep journal during the semester was built upon and expanded to provide to students the opportunity to analyze their own qualitative (sleep survey) and quantitative (actigraphy) sleep measurements and expose their results in a scientific format. Since sleep hygiene may be an important factor to minimize sleep debt, emphasis was made on this subject: students are given the opportunity to write articles on this subject and publish in the College newspaper as part of their civic engagement.

Related Resources

Resulting Projects, Research, and Recognitions

  • An article titled “Good Sleep Hygiene” was published by Sean Fujimoto in the College Newspaper in Spring 2008.
  • A poster titled “Exploring Sleep, Engaging Minds” was presented at the EPSCOR conference in 2007.
  • A poster titled “Early Birds and Night Owls: Analyzzing Sleep in Society” was presented at SENCER in 2007.
  • A poster titled “Sleep and Society” was presented at SENCER in 2006.

Related Resources

National Sleep Foundation: Sleep Foundation