News and Notes

A Newsletter for Faculty and Staff of Idaho State University

October 7, 2013 — Vol. 29 No. 34

Maria Wong Receives $1.62 Million NIH Grant for Study of Sleep

Maria Wong

A new study that will be carried out at Idaho State University over the next five years will help researchers further understand the link between sleep problems in youths and later substance abuse and high-risk behavior.

"If we can clarify the relationship between sleep problems and later substance abuse and other high-risk behavior it will help with the development of prevention programs and effective treatments for those behaviors," said Maria Wong, professor and director of experimental training in the ISU Department of Psychology.

Wong, as principal investigator, has received a five-year, $1.62 million grant from the National Institutes of Health's National Institute on Alcohol Abuse & Alcoholism and National Institute of General Medical Sciences. The title of the grant is "Sleep physiology and risk for alcohol problems in children of alcoholics."

The ISU Vice President for Research and Economic Development, Howard Grimes, said that these large NIH grants are among the most competitive and prestigious in the United States.

"The fact that one of our younger scientists has achieved this level of scientific recognition is fantastic for her research program and her colleagues at ISU," Grimes said. "It verifies our upward trajectory in building our research programs."

This project builds on previous studies led by Wong and collaborators at the University of Michigan. In several studies, they have documented the link between sleep problems in adolescents as a top risk factor for substance abuse and other high-risk behaviors such as suicide and aggression.

The new study, which will try to recruit about 200 study participants in southeastern Idaho, will examine the sleep patterns and habits of rural children of alcohol-dependent parents (COA) through multiple measures of sleep, including self-reporting by participants, parental ratings and direct observation in clinical settings.

Researchers will attempt to understand the effects of sleep disturbances on neurocognitive functions, behavioral problems, and the risk for early alcohol use and abuse among children of alcohol-dependent parents and a control group. They will also try to understand how gender, physical development, and perceived stress may change the relationship between sleep problems and alcohol use and abuse among study participants.

Wong's team includes three researchers from the University of Michigan, Kirk Brower, M.D, principal investigator of Michigan consortium; Deirdre Conroy, co-investigator; and Robert Zucker, consultant. Timothy Roehrs, from the Henry Ford Hospital, is also a consultant on the project.

Wong said that little overall is known about children of alcohol-dependent parents in rural areas. Substance use disorders among youth in rural areas in the United States are comparable to rates in urban areas. However, in Idaho, the prevalence of alcohol use disorders (as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) among individuals age 12 or older in 2006 was 8 percent, exceeding the national average of 7.6 percent. The rates of alcohol-induced deaths from 2002-04 in Idaho also exceeded the national average; Idaho had 9.4 deaths per 100,000 compared with 7 per 100,000 nationally.

"In addition to the alarming statistics on substance abuse, Idaho ranked No. 2 in terms of per capita rates of adolescent suicide deaths and the rate of suicide in Idaho is 45 percent higher than the national average," Wong said.

Health care access is also limited in Idaho's rural areas, making understanding risk factors and developing prevention programs important.

A new wrinkle to Wong's research in this study is to take an objective measure of what constitutes good sleep and bad sleep by measuring the quality of their sleep in a controlled setting.

"The results of this study should lead to practical information between sleep problems and alcohol use disorders, which have strong implications for prevention and early intervention," Wong said.