February 10, 2021

Childhood sleep analysis essay wins student top honors

Aneesh Hehr is a second-year medical student at the Wayne State University School of Medicine whose paper on the effects of sleep duration and midpoint of sleep on key emotion-regulation regions of the brain in children and adolescents won him first place in the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine’s 2020 Stanley M. Kaplan Essay Contest. 

Medical student Aneesh Hehr is a member of the M.D. Class of 2023.

“Sleep is an integral part of a child’s healthy mental and physical development. Both sleep duration and timing have been linked to emotion-related disorders, for example, depression. But we do not understand the mechanism behind this association,” Hehr said. “Therefore, we looked at the effects of sleep duration and midpoint of sleep on key emotion-regulation regions of the brain in a sample of children and adolescents. We found significant associations between sleep duration, midpoint of sleep and connectivity between brain regions involved in emotion regulation. For example, shorter sleep duration was associated with reduced connectivity between the amygdala and ventral anterior cingulate cortex. This contributes to prior studies on sleep and emotional health, and may inform decisions to promote healthy sleep habits in youth, such as changes to school start times.”

“Effects of duration and midpoint of sleep on cortico-limbic circuitry in youth” was judged on creativity, knowledge of psychiatry, style and contribution to understanding important problems in any of the biological, psychological or social dimensions of psychiatry. The paper is also published online.

Hehr is mentored by Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences Hilary Marusak, Ph.D., whose students have co-written pieces for The Conversation with her. The duo collaborated on the related Jan. 4 column, “How Does Your Brain Wake Up from Sleep?”

Learn more about Dr. Marusak's lab at www.wsuthinklab.com

He hasn’t selected a medical specialty, but knows he wants to focus on mental health.

“Truly exceptional students come along once in a while, and Aneesh is one of those truly exceptional students. I have mentored Aneesh on research projects for the past four years – first when he was an undergraduate student at WSU and now as a second-year medical student at WSU,” Dr. Marusak said. “Aneesh displays uncommon passion and commitment to medical research, and I am thrilled that he received this prestigious award. I have no doubt that Aneesh will be an exceptional clinician-researcher, and will make major contributions to psychiatric research. I look forward to seeing his bright career continue to unfold.”

Hehr worked on the project with the University of Michigan’s Edward Huntley, Ph.D., a regular collaborator of the Marusak lab, as well as her mentor, Christine Rabinak, Ph.D., associate professor of Pharmacy Practice, who also mentored Hehr on the project and throughout his undergraduate career.

“I am grateful to have this opportunity and an incredible support structure. A huge thank you to Dr. Marusak for being such a strong mentor, to the University of Cincinnati for hosting this award, and to (Associate Dean of Student Affairs and Career Development) Dr. Margit Chadwell for informing us about this opportunity,” Hehr said.