James Madison University

Studying Sleeping to Improve Lives

By: Brett Seekford '17
Posted: March 18, 2016

Once a military man, always a military man. Dr. Jeff Dyche, Director of the Psychological Sciences program at JMU and a former research psychologist for the Navy, was recently contacted by a former colleague, Lieutenant Colonel (Dr.) Candy Wilson, to conduct research for the Geneva Foundation. This nonprofit organization funds research to improve the lives of servicemen and women. Dyche’s background in actigraphy is considered essential to the project.

Actigraphs are bracelet-like devices used to measure rest and sleep levels based on wrist movement. Having already conducted research regarding submariners using actigraphs, Dyche developed a great understanding for using this form of technology to complete experiments on sleep patterns. After being contacted by Wilson, he agreed to work on these studies for the Geneva Foundation.

PHOTO: Student wearing actigraph
Daroon Jalil ('17) models an actigraph on her wrist in the Sleep and Actigraphy Lab

His research will involve a group of servicemen and women wearing actigraphs continually while having acupuncture pins placed in their ears in an attempt to reduce back pain. This approach is taken from acupunctural theory, which suggests that inserting needles in certain areas of the body can counter pain experienced elsewhere. Therefore, Dyche will study whether the pins help alleviate lower back pain and improve sleep, which is a problem for many members of the military due to their strenuous training. Reducing back pain may also improve participants’ sleep efficiency. While this study only examines lower back pain, Dyche sees potential for conclusive evidence to trickle down to other people who endure persistent pain.

“I’m a little skeptical about acupuncture’s ability to improve lower back pain, but this research will open the door to other questions,” Dyche explained. “The work we’re doing with servicemen and women could lead to better lives for people who suffer from chronic pain.”

Dyche involves his students in the research. With his encouragement, the Geneva Foundation has offered a JMU graduate student the opportunity to assist Dyche in conducting the study. While he has yet to select the student, Dyche sees this opportunity as evidence of the Psychological Sciences program’s national status: “The funding shows they place a value on our graduate student’s education as well as developing him or her as a future researcher. It also opens up funding from the department to another student.”

Their research will span three years, beginning in fall 2016. While the funding only covers one year, Dyche hopes that their findings will lead to more money to support their experiments. “We’ll have to repeat the experiment numerous times before we can draw any conclusions,” he said.

This research endeavor is valuable not only to Dyche but also to JMU Psychology students. “The graduate student involved will be able to mentor undergraduates, helping the project run smoothly. My major goal in this project is to educate students. And if I can help out the Geneva Foundation and my colleagues in the process, that’s wonderful,” he said.

“I’m hoping the inclusion of my students in this type of work will help them in pursuing higher education as they look to attain Ph.Ds,” Dyche said. “This form of experience is valuable in developing students as professional researchers. I value my role as an educator and hope these opportunities help students in their future careers.”