Harvard Professor and Andover Grad Present on Sleep

James Quattrochi, Lecturer on Molecular and Cellular Biology at Harvard University, teamed up with Justin Chew ’07, a Harvard neurobiology major, to educate Andover students on the value of sleep and its effect on a student’s test taking ability this past Wednesday. Chew said, “One of the main reasons I wanted to come back [to PA] and do this was because I wanted to spread this method of teaching. It’s a really new and innovative way to teach, [because] the learning is in [the students’] hands.” Chew is one of the students in a class Quattrochi teaches that heavily utilizes case studies. The class examined nine scenarios in total this year, using Internet forums as tools to interact with their subjects to gather data. The presentation, made possible by the Phillips Academy Science Club, featured an in-depth interactive case study based on two real-life Harvard Law School students, Karin and Diane. The two students employed different methods of studying, and the experiment tested which method worked better by comparing their final grades on an exam they both took. Karin did not attend many classes, instead depending on her ability to cram for tests. Diane attended every class in the course and took notes. They both started studying a week before the exam and pulled an all-nighter the night before the 10 a.m. exam, studying until 7 a.m. The audience members spent the first thirty minutes of the seminar discussing as a group who they thought would test better. The very first student to raise her hand said that Diane, who had attended every class during the semester and was exposed to the information for a longer time, would do better. Quattrochi pointed out the difference between the way the brain facilitates new information versus old information. There are two ways that the brain digests information: aminergic and cholinergic. Aminergic refers to a state of mind in which the brain is focused on the way things relate to what we already know, and cholinergic is a term used to define the state when we are purely concentrated on the information itself. Quattrochi said that, “the brain has an inherent… balance [of aminergic and cholinergic] that speaks directly to your ability to focus and to put information into context.” Aminergic works to focus the brain on facts, and cholinergic works with the information in context. This means that there is always a ratio of aminergic-to-cholinergic, and your brain cannot take in and store information without it. The audience determined whether being aminergic or cholinergic would be more important when taking the test, and who had more of which. Quattrochi explained that the amount of sleep that each of the students got the night before the test was crucial, pointing out the two different types of sleep; REM and non-REM. REM sleep is characterized by rapid eye movement and dreaming, and is a deeper sleep than non-REM, which is non-rapid eye movement sleep. Quattrochi said, “Normally, when you hit the pillow, the first stage of sleep is non-REM, which is aminergic. When you then get into REM sleep, it is a cholinergic state. When you are awake, the ratio of aminergic to cholinergic fluctuates [in a way] that affects your behavior, mood, levels of attention, etc.” To explain this further, Quattrochi used the example of an elephant. “When you have a dream, do you ever think during that dream that there’s something weird going on? If an elephant runs through, it’s not weird. You are purely contextual. You are cholinergic. But when you are awake, you are more aminergic. If an elephant runs through, you would think it’s weird.” Later, the group split into two to further examine the case study and come up with hypotheses. Chew and Quattrochi acted as Diane and Karin to answer audience questions, simulating the online conversations they had had during the actual case study. Finally, the two groups reconvened to discuss the results gathered from the February experiment. Half the room supported Karin, who, as Chew said, “refers to herself as the ‘Queen of Cramming.’” Karin’s sleep cycle was highly unorthodox, yet still regular. The week before the test, Karin woke up at 5 a.m. and crammed until 1 p.m. She then took a nap from 1-4 p.m. Karin would then study from 4 p.m. -3 a.m. and would go to sleep from 3 to 5 a.m. The morning of the test, she “lay in bed… [but] wasn’t sure if she slept.” The other half supported Diane, who normally had a very regular sleep cycle, except for the week before the test when she “pulled a lot of all-nighters.” However, students argued that since she was reviewing old information, there was less pressure. In addition, instead of working to learn new information, she simply had to recall what she had already learned. The morning before the test, she was “asleep the second her head hit the pillow,” so she most likely got REM sleep, which is a benefit. In the end, it was Karin who got the ‘A’, while Diane got a ‘B+’, proving that there are many more factors involved in testing well than simply attending classes. According to Chew and Quattrochi, because Diane changed her sleep schedule entirely the week before the exam, her body was not able to function as well. Justin Chew came to Andover thanks to Jennifer Chew ’10, his sister and Co-Head of the PA Science Club. Impressed by the “really big turnout,” Chew said “being able to approach problems in a scientific way is important… and this [program] was great because it taught us [how to] in an interactive way.” “One of the things I was most worried about [coming into Andover],” said Quattrochi, “was if we could finish this study in time… [but] I was impressed with [the students’] scholarship and collaborative engagement. It only took the group ninety minutes to achieve all the learning objectives in this case. Normally, we complete a case with the medical students in a week, and with the neurobiology life sciences tutorials in two weeks!” “This [visit] was the coolest thing. A lot of our [Harvard] students would be impressed I think,” said Quattrochi.