Chen uses data analysis to understand sleep

Jen-Hao Chen

Dr. Jen-Hao Chen, assistant professor of health science with appointments in the MU School of Health Professions and Truman School of Public Affairs, uses data analysis to understand sleep.

Insufficient sleep can cause serious problems such as cognitive decline and chronic disease, but many people sleep poorly. In search of solutions, Chen partnered with social scientists from the University of Chicago. The team analyzed data from a study of older adults who wore special wrist bands to measure sleep. The scientists tracked levels of social participation—volunteering, attending religious services and taking part in organized group activities—and compared them to sleep outcomes. They found that those who participated more slept better.

“When it comes to the discussion of healthy lifestyle, being socially connected and sleeping well are not often mentioned together,” says Chen. “We must consider a comprehensive approach that emphasizes the role of engaging in our communities.”

It is not yet clear whether the higher levels of participation cause better sleep, or whether good health permits individuals to both participate and sleep well. Using innovative sleep measurements, Chen plans to continue researching how various social relationships affect sleep behaviors and outcomes.

Featured by Mizzou Advantage as a Collaborative Success Story, the full study, “Social participation and older adults’ sleep” by Jen-Hao Chen, Diane S. Lauderdale, and Linda J. Waite, was published in Social Science & Medicine 149, 164-173 (January 2016).