Campus Life  

OC to celebrate first graduates of 2023

Amanda Jones

Amanda Jones will be one of hundreds of OC graduates taking a momentous step this weekend, as she and her peers cross the red carpet at the College’s first Convocation ceremonies of the year.

And for the Penticton mother of two – who juggled a return to classroom with supporting a family and running a successful business during a global pandemic – the long-awaited moment brings feelings of pride and a continued desire to keep learning.

Okanagan College will recognize graduates at two ceremonies in Kelowna on Saturday:

  • 10:30 a.m. – Science, Technology and Health Programs
  • 1:30 p.m. – Arts and Business Programs

The ceremonies will be held in the Centre for Learning (E building) atrium at the Kelowna Campus, 1000 KLO Rd, and will also be livestreamed on the College’s YouTube channel: www.youtube.com/okanagancollege.

Jones, who is owner of McPhail Kilt Makers, which produces bespoke garments celebrating Scottish culture, will be swapping tartan for a graduate’s robes on Saturday. As the big day approaches, the Associate of Arts graduand has been reflecting on her journey.

“After graduating high school, I devoted my attention to raising my family and growing a business,” explains Jones. “But over the years I’ve always had my eye on continuing my education – it was just a matter of finding the right place and the right time. I love literature, and so in 2020 I decided to go for it and pursue that passion.”

Just as she was about to step into the classroom in early 2020, the pandemic hit. She and her fellow classmates persevered, buoyed by each other and by the positive environment fostered by OC faculty and staff.

Winter Convocation

“If I had to sum up my experience at OC in a word, it would be ‘encouraging’. My professors and fellow students were so supportive, which made stepping back into the classroom so much easier,” adds Jones. “It reminded me that we should never stop learning. Learn is a lifelong journey and I’m so glad I made the decision to attend OC – it couldn’t have come at a better time in my life.”

For Jones, graduation day feels all the more rewarding given two people very dear to her who will be on hand to witness her milestone – her teenagers.

“It has been wonderful to feel like I was setting an example for my kids in demonstrating my commitment to lifelong learning, hard work and persistence. I’m happy they’re proud of me.”

Jones is among the nearly 800 graduates who will be recognized at Winter Convocation.

“We can’t wait to applaud graduates for their accomplishments, and we can’t wait to see what they do next as they further their education, their careers, their community involvement – the countless unique ways in which they transform themselves and their communities around them for the better,” said Neil Fassina, president, Okanagan College. “The positive impact our students and alumni generate is incredibly far-reaching. This isn’t the end of the journey… it’s just the beginning.”

For more information, visit the College’s Convocation and Commencement page: www.okanagan.bc.ca/convocation.

Brain injury diagnosis may hurt women's chances in parenting disputes

An MRI of a brain after trauma

As many as 92 per cent of women who experience violence at the hands of a partner may experience brain injury, which can lead to chronic physical, cognitive and emotional symptoms.

Lingering trauma from a brain injury can increase challenges facing survivors of intimate partner violence in child custody and access cases, according to new research from UBC Okanagan.

Dr. Paul van Donkelaar, a Professor in the Faculty of Health and Social Development, oversaw the research conducted as part of UBC's Supporting Survivors of Abuse and Brain Injury Through Research (SOAR) project. Researchers explored the ethics of how a woman with a brain injury, sustained through partner violence, might be treated in Canada's justice system.

"A brain injury will contribute to the way the person behaves in fairly predictable ways, and that needs to be considered during legal proceedings between survivors and perpetrators of intimate partner violence," he says. "This paper is the first of its kind that looks at how the legal system might use a brain injury diagnosis in parenting disputes, and how women are unfairly treated--including during a custodial challenge."

As many as 92 per cent of women who experience violence at the hands of a partner may experience brain injury, which can lead to chronic and sometimes debilitating physical, cognitive and emotional symptoms, including headaches, dizziness, memory issues, trouble with sleep and difficulty regulating emotions.

The research, published in the Journal of Law and the Biosciences, was conducted by Quinn Boyle, a doctoral student working with Dr. Judy Illes at Neuroethics Canada. While there have been recent improvements when it comes to mental health issues in custody disputes, Boyle says this is not the case with a brain injury.

"If a lawyer raised the diagnosis of depression, anxiety or PTSD as a reason why a woman would be unfit to parent, they would be scoffed at," says Boyle. "For the most part, basic mental health disorders are no longer used against a woman during a parenting dispute where intimate partner violence is involved because evidence has shown that they can be managed effectively."

There is a lot of overlap between mental health symptoms and those of a brain injury, he adds.

"If we're now saying there is a likelihood of brain injury, we may have a situation in the Canadian justice system where that brain injury is used against the woman during a legal challenge for custody of her children," he says. "A lawyer could hypothetically say the brain injury is a concern and that the woman is unfit to parent." More specifically it is the lack of gold-standard treatment for brain injury that creates uncertainty about a woman's recovery trajectory and timeline. It is this uncertainty that will likely be weaponized against women.

Current legislation and confidentiality laws surrounding health information leave these women vulnerable as the brain injury can be disclosed in court regardless of their preference, and also be critically examined and weaponized by opposing counsel. The lawyers interviewed unanimously expressed their strategy as opposing counsel would include using a brain injury to argue the mother is unfit to parent, as their professional duty is to represent the best interests of their client. This is despite them acknowledging it as abhorrent, immoral behaviour earlier in the interview.

Dr. Deana Simonetto, Assistant Professor with the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and co-author of the paper, says this research provides good insight into a family's experience of parenting with a brain injury and what the legal system does in terms of parenting disputes.

"It's important to think through how the legal system is structured and how women have been historically treated in parenting dispute cases," she says. "We want to do the best for them, so our solutions need to change these structures. However, they are not easily changed."

In a crime that is under-reported, and where there are often no witnesses, it's already difficult for survivors of intimate partner violence to receive the supports they need. Given brain injury often goes unrecognized and undiagnosed, the challenges facing survivors are even greater.

"A brain injury can leave a person seeming out of sorts and confused. The police might think they are acting erratically, and interpret the behaviour as being caused by substance use or mental health issues, rather than a physical injury to the brain," says Dr. Simonetto.

Current and previous SOAR research has focused on developing education and training for frontline workers--including police, paramedics and shelter workers--to better recognize and respond to brain injury from intimate partner violence.

The next step, says Dr. van Donkelaar, is to raise awareness in the legal system of brain injuries caused through intimate partner violence. This latest paper provides four recommendations, including training lawyers and judges about brain injury and its effect on survivors of intimate partner violence. The authors also propose organizations conduct brain injury assessments on survivors of intimate partner violence to prioritize allyship with medical experts who are willing and able to advocate for women in parenting disputes. Lastly, they recommend that women are offered complete transparency so they know how a brain injury diagnosis might be used against them in court.

"We need to work with the relevant agencies at the provincial levels--those that work with lawyers and judges--and help them recognize that brain injury is likely occurring in victims of intimate partner violence," says Dr. van Donkelaar. "When a brain injury is involved, we need to better understand the injury and do the right thing both from a medical and legal perspective."

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Ultrasonic sensors can safeguard residential gas lines

Gas piping entering a building

UBCO engineers are conducting research using ultrasonic sensors to examine buried residential gas lines.

A team of UBC Okanagan researchers is investigating a new method to monitor underground gas pipelines with high-tech sensors that can make it easier to find weaknesses, discrepancies and even a diversion in residential natural gas lines.

While there has been considerable research into diagnosis methods for steel pipes such as radiography, ultrasonic testing, visual inspection and ground penetrating radar, Master of Applied Science student Abdullah Zayat says little has been done on the commonly used high-density polyethylene (HDPE) pipe, which carries natural gas to homes.

"Early detection of structural degradation is essential to maintaining safety and integrity. And it lowers the risk of catastrophic failure," he explains.

Zayat and his supervisor Dr. Anas Chaaban, Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering, tested a technique that allows for the inspection of HDPE pipes with ultrasonic sensors--which transmit ultrasound signals through the pipe.

The new monitoring method limits the likelihood of gas diversions--where gas is siphoned to an unmetered location for unmeasured consumption.

"This tampering with the pipe poses many risks since it is unrecorded, violates pipeline quality standards and can lead to potential leaks and possibly explosions. This can pose a significant risk to public safety, property and the environment in the vicinity of the altered gas line," says Dr. Chaaban. "Such diversions have been discovered in the past through word of mouth, leaks or unexpected encounters with an unrecorded natural gas pipe in a construction site."

Previous research has studied the inspection of metallic structures using ultrasonic-guided waves (UGWs). But this type of testing has not been done to inspect non-metallic structures such as HDPE pipelines.

"Given the concealed nature of underground pipes, it is very challenging to inspect them. Existing solutions include ground penetrating radar and endoscope cameras, which are both invasive and expose inspectors to potential risk from the suspects. As a result, it is better to use non-invasive methods to inspect pipes."

This method enables the inspection of buried, insulated and underwater pipelines using ultrasonic sensors. It also provides a larger range of inspection than traditional ultrasonic testing because it uses the structure of the pipe itself as a waveguide, explains Zayat.

"UGW sensing is getting a lot of attention from the industry because of its long-range inspection capabilities from a single test location. They can inspect more than 100 metres of pipeline from a single location," he adds.

This type of detection system is unique because the sensors clamp onto the exposed portion of the pipe and connect to the section of pipe that emerges above the ground where it connects to the metre.

While the technology is still in the early stages, Dr. Chaaban notes the majority of this current research involved the development and assessment of a deep-learning algorithm for detecting diversions in pipes. The results suggest that the method has 90 per cent accuracy when one receiving sensor is used and nearly 97 per cent accuracy when using two receiving sensors.

Future use of the sensors may include the inspection of buried, insulated and underwater pipelines.

"By combining classical signal processing with machine learning, we can more efficiently and accurately determine if there is an issue," adds Dr. Chaaban.

The research appears in the latest edition of the journal Sensors, and was funded in part by Fortis BC and Mitacs.

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Business students bring home medals from Canada’s oldest business school competition

The gold medal winning team from Okanagan College, both coaches and students.

Students from the School of Business at Okanagan College (OC) were front and centre at the prestigious Queen's University Inter-Collegiate Business Competition this month, with 15 students combining for four medals, including the team award for exceptional team spirit.

The competition, held Jan. 13 to15 in Kingston, ON, saw seven teams from the Okanagan School of Business competing in the final weekend of the event. Two-person teams were presented with a business scenario to analyze, develop a solution, and create a presentation to be presented to a panel of judges in a 5.5-hour time frame.
OC students were competing in areas such as human resources, ethics, accounting, debate, digital strategy, marketing, and business policy and teammates Patrick Gilmour (3rd year) and Jessica Skerlec (4th year) were among the winners, coming away with a first place showing in the human resources competition.

“The entire process challenged me to apply my learnings and strengths from our business program in an environment outside of the classroom,” said Skerlec. “The competition not only allowed me to realize my full potential and improve my confidence but created long lasting relationships with my incredible teammates and coaches, as well as many individuals from all over the world. I cannot thank my fellow peers and faculty from OC enough for their continued support throughout the entire experience.”

“I was so ecstatic when we heard our school’s name announced as champions,” added Gilmour. “I felt a great deal of school pride in that moment and still do. I was so glad to be able to attribute this accomplishment to the dedication of our coaches - Roger and Laura - and the entire business program at OC. I have been given a really amazing education and this championship is absolutely a reflection of that.”

Billed as Canada’s largest, oldest, and most prestigious undergraduate case competition, the Queen’s competition takes place in two stages. Over the course of three weeks in October, competitors worked to prepare a quality business report with the top teams advancing to the final weekend.

“Attending competitions allows our students to develop real-world skills in a fast-paced business environment, while at the same time networking with business leaders and peers from around the world,” said Bill Gillett, Dean of the Okanagan School of Business. “Our mission is to transform lives and by attending these competitions, our students are becoming job ready as they get set to enter the business world.”

After the final weekend’s exhilarating three days, several OC students and professors won awards:

•    1st (HR): Patrick Gilmour and Jessica Skerlec – Coached by Laura Thurnheer and Roger Wheeler
•    2nd (Debate): Braden Hall and Manmeet Dhaliwal – Coached by Bob Groves
•    2nd (Ethics): Kimberly Cornell – Coached by Robert Ryan and Caroline Gilchrist
•    3rd (Accounting): Annika Kirk and Connor Margetts – Coached by Mary Ann Knoll and Adrian Fontenla
•    Co-Chairperson Award – Exceptional Team Spirit

“This really is a tremendous accomplishment for our teams. It’s a credit to the students, professors and everyone involved in the Okanagan School of Business,” said Dr. Andrew Hay, Okanagan College Provost and Vice President Academic. “I want to congratulate the entire team on being awarded the Co-Chairperson Award for team spirit. You have done us all proud.”

The Okanagan School of Business at OC integrates theory and subject-matter knowledge into its degree, diploma, and certificate courses, using practical applications such as business competitions, community-based course projects, and work experiences.

College notifies current students and employees of privacy incident and offers credit monitoring

Okanagan College campus in Vernon.

On Monday, January 9, Okanagan College responded to an incident in which an unauthorized entity gained access to certain Okanagan College technology systems.

As soon as the intrusion was detected, the College took steps to contain the incident and engaged cyber-security experts to assist with the response and investigation.

In the course of the investigation, it has been determined that certain information belonging to current students and employees may have been subject to risk as result of the incident. The College has notified the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner for British Columbia and is in the process of notifying students and staff.

Current students will receive instructions from the College and/or can find more information on the OC website, including instructions for obtaining access to credit monitoring services that are being provided by the College free of charge. Current staff will receive instructions directly from the College by email.

The investigation is ongoing. Should the investigation determine that information pertaining to other individuals may have been impacted by the incident, we will notify those individuals accordingly.  

While no organization can be entirely immune to these types of attacks, the College takes privacy seriously and will continue to seek opportunities to further strengthen its security infrastructure.

There are currently approximately 17,000 students and 1,100 employees at Okanagan College. For more information about the Cyber-Incident at Okanagan College, including the student notification letter and FAQs click here.


Concrete toboggan race returns to Kelowna, Big White

A photo of students working on a concrete tobacco

UBCO's concrete toboggan, before decorated in its theme for the year, gets tested on the slopes at Big White to ensure it's ready to perform.

While research at a university can take on many shapes and forms, students, faculty and staff with UBC Okanagan's School of Engineering have found a way to combine winter sports and the thrill of competition into their daily work.

This year, UBCO's School of Engineering is hosting the Great Northern Toboggan Race--a multi-day, student-led event where universities from across Canada race their hand-built concrete toboggans down steep hills. UBCO also hosted the event in 2015.

Though the competition is heavily focused on the design and manufacturing aspects of engineering, faculty supervisor Dr. Ahmed Rteil says lots of learning and professional development takes place during the design, construction and eventual race event.

"There is a lot of business and logistics planning that goes on behind the scenes so the teams recruit students from other areas of study," he says. "The experience of participating in this event has helped students make connections with industry and round out their resumes which will potentially help them find employment after graduation."

So, what exactly is a concrete toboggan?

It's not completely concrete, says event co-chair Kyle Lessoway, who is working on his doctorate in mechanical engineering. In fact, the only parts of the toboggan that must be concrete are the actual runners that contact the snow during the downhill race.

Competing teams must design and build a custom-made toboggan capable of steering, braking and, most importantly, safely carry five people down the mountain. The toboggan with concrete skis, metal roll cage, and steering and braking mechanisms must weigh in at less than 350 pounds, explains Lessoway.

"The competition is unique compared to other engineering competitions in that it adds a spirited side to the event with themes designed into the toboggans," he says, adding UBCO's toboggan this year has a cow theme. "The event also allows competitors to also practice their soft skills such as communicating with industry partners and members of the public who are not engineering experts."

For months the students have been preparing budgets, writing funding proposals and engaging with stakeholders. Even getting the team, and the sled, from their home to the competition city is a massive undertaking that a lot of undergraduate students don't have experience with, explains co-chair and UBCO alumna Janessa Froese. She joined the team while studying sciences at UBCO.

"The skills I developed while I was on the concrete toboggan team were the reason I got my first job when I completed university," she says.

First established in 1975, the Great Northern Concrete Toboggan Race is the largest and longest-running engineering student competition in Canada. This year, there are 15 competing teams, plus four non-competing teams, meaning there will be more than 385 participants arriving in Kelowna this week. Events kick off with a competitor interaction day where the students will participate in downtown tours including the heritage museums along with some events on campus.

Students will also participate in a concrete testing demonstration at UBCO's campus and the Tech-Ex display at the host hotel the Delta Hotels by Marriott Grand Okanagan Resort on January 27. Race day takes place January 28 at Big White's Tube Town.

Before hitting the slopes, each toboggan will be judged on a number of categories, such as the design of the toboggan as a whole, the level of ingenuity and innovation as well as how well it performs on race day. Each toboggan must pass a safety inspection prior to racing and any entries that fail will not be permitted to race.

The UBCO team has a track record of success in the event, including podium finishes at several events and placing second overall the last time the competition was held in Kelowna.

More information about the 2023 Great Northern Concrete Toboggan Race can be found at: www.gnctr2023.ca

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Okanagan College alumni team up to launch new EP as annual music concert set to take place

Jessica Bourelle and her musical production team give thumbs ups.

As a kid, Jessica Bourelle dreamed of being a musician, singing along to songs she heard on the radio or ones that she had written herself.  

She had the heart of a poet, loved writing and dreamed of a career in music. But like a lot of creative forces, Jessica wondered if her songs were good enough. 

Enter Okanagan College’s Audio Engineering and Music Production program, a certificate course that prepares individuals to work in a variety of different music production careers. It was in the program that Jessica’s confidence soared with a supportive environment and a professor who cared. 

With help from other graduates of the program, Jessica has now released her first EP, a beautiful three-song album called Haunted and Healed.  

“Before I came to Okanagan College years ago, I had dreamed of releasing music to help people heal but had very little belief in myself that I could do it,” she says. “I remember thinking I wasn’t talented. But the lead instructor inspired me to believe in my ability. The program is full of amazing people, and it really made the difference in my belief in myself.” 

With a confidence boost from her time in the studio at Okanagan College, Jessica channeled her creative energy. She began writing the songs that would make up Haunted and Healed.

In the summer of 2021, with the lyrics taking shape, Jessica met fellow program graduate Chaianne Ellis. After graduating from the program, Chaianne started her own production company called SoulTech. She jumped on board and production would begin later that year with the aid of fellow OC alums Jake Swartzenberger and Aaron Quibell.

The resulting Haunted and Healed is a melodic and meditative mix of soothing sounds. 

“It’s beyond fulfilling,” says Jessica. “The best part is I get to hear from folks around me on how the songs make them feel and for the most part, I hear they are relaxed or that they feel like meditating.”  

For these two OC grads, their education has come full circle. Both now work at Okanagan College in addition to their musical pursuits. 

“I would recommend the Audio Engineering and Music Production program to anyone who is interested in music, art, production, and unity,” says Chaianne. “Throughout the course, new sound is discovered, and the perspective of listening is changed. The Haunted and Healed project was very exciting to be a part of. It's exciting to work with artists and creative minds like Jessica.” 

The EP Haunted and Healed is available for purchase on iTunes and is streaming on Apple Music, Spotify and YouTube music.


Okanagan College’s Audio Engineering and Music Production program is hosting its annual concert on Jan. 28 at the Rotary Centre for the Arts, celebrating the successes of past and present students. This year’s concert, Hoots & Hollers – A night of country music, features OC alum Paige Madison alongside the opening act, The Whelms. Tickets are on sale here.

Okanagan College’s 15th annual Business Expo and Employment Fair returns on Feb. 1

Business Expo and Employment Fair

For those on the hunt for a new job – or wondering about the educational pathway to kickstart a career change – one of Okanagan College’s most popular community events is back and bigger than ever in 2022.

OC’s Business Expo & Employment Fair will take place on Wednesday, Feb. 1 from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. in the Centre for Learning (E Building) Atrium and in the Trades (T Building) Atrium at the Kelowna Campus, 1000 KLO Rd.

The Expo is presented by the College’s School of Business, in collaboration with OC’s Trades and Apprenticeship and the Student, Graduate and Co-op Employment Centre. Attendance is free and the event is open to the public.

“Events like these represent an incredible opportunity not only for our students and alumni from all across the region, but for our surrounding communities as well,” says Okanagan College President Neil Fassina. “The growth of this event reflects our strong connections to industry and community at OC, as we work to train the skilled workers needed in so many sectors around us. We are so proud to be able to bring people together and create these kinds of transformative education and career development opportunities at Okanagan College.”

This year marks OC’s fifteenth year of connecting students and community members with employers from the Okanagan and across the country at the Expo. This year’s event is poised to be the largest yet, thanks to an impressive array of employers, notes event organizer Jamie Morrow.

“We’ve got an incredible lineup of more than 100 exhibitors this year, who will be on hand on Feb. 1, actively looking to add to their workforce. The response from the business community, locally and from afar, has been tremendous,” says Morrow, Advising & Recruitment Coordinator with the School of Business.

“We are hearing from employers that there is huge demand for new talent,” adds Morrow. “So, regardless of which sector you are looking to get into or advance your career in, there truly will be something for everyone at the Expo.”

Participants will find exhibitors from industries including municipalities, wine, law enforcement, hospitality, finance, construction, technologies, retail and more. And for those interested in learning about the educational pathways at Okanagan College, OC representatives will be on hand to answer questions.

“As we look ahead to the future of work in the region, the diversity of opportunities on display at the College’s Business Expo speaks to the depth of opportunities and the sheer demand for talent we are seeing in the region,” notes Krista Mallory, Central Okanagan Economic Development Commission Manager. “It is so beneficial for the economic fabric of the region that employers of all sectors and sizes can look to the well-educated, well-trained students and graduates coming out of our post-secondary institutions like OC in the region to meet their needs.”  

More information about the expo, including a full list of exhibitors, is available at www.okanagan.bc.ca/businessexpo.

Former ‘Top Chef’ takes the reins at Okanagan College’s Infusions restaurant

Executive Chef Ruth Wigman

Fans of Canada’s Top Chef will recognize the name of the new Executive Chef at Infusions. Ruth Wigman, whose 20-year career has taken her coast to coast, brings a fresh and exciting perspective to the restaurant at Okanagan College staffed by Culinary Arts students.

Wigman, who was a contestant on the Food Network’s Canada’s Top Chef program in 2014, most recently worked as the executive sous-chef at the Fairmont Vancouver Airport for over three years. Before that, she worked at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge and the Fairmount Southampton in Bermuda. When she appeared on Top Chef, she was working at Bistro Sofia in St. John’s, Newfoundland.

Chef Ruth also appeared on season 27 of the Food Network’s Beat Bobby Flay, released in Jan. 2022.

Now, just in time for the popular local food festival, Dine Around, Wigman is setting the menu and bringing her creative energy to Kelowna.

“I’m excited to be joining the team at Infusions and Okanagan College,” said Wigman, who started in her new role in January. “I’m looking forward to sharing my passion for the culinary world with student chefs. Their energy and ideas are contagious. It will be my role to help them experience what it is like to work in a restaurant and show them how we can be inspired by local foods and the region in the dishes we prepare.”



nfusions Restaurant is a fully-functioning restaurant located on campus at Okanagan College in Kelowna, and featuring a regionally-focused menu. Open to the OC community and the broader public, it provides Culinary Arts students a place to learn, practice and excel in a real-world setting, complementing the instruction they receive in the classroom.

“We’re thrilled to have a chef of Ruth’s caliber joining our team and bringing a new excitement to Infusions,” said Cari Jahns, Manager, Culinary and Pastry Arts at Okanagan College. “The Okanagan Chef School is well-known and becoming more and more in-demand, because of the reputation of our Red Seal Chef instructors, and thanks to the incredible support we have from local partners in the food, beverage and restaurant sectors across the region.”

Book your table at Infusions: Visit www.okanagan.bc.ca/infusions to make a reservation at Infusions, which is open Tuesday through Friday, 5:30 – 8 p.m.

To learn more about Dine Around, taking place Jan. 18 – Feb. 9, 2023: https://dinearound.ca/kelowna/

Being sleep deprived can make tedious tasks seem tougher

Young man using desktop pc at desk in home office

New UBCO research takes a closer look at the physiological changes that occur within the motor pathway from the brain to the muscle as a result of sleep deprivation.

Most people, whether they are shift workers, first responders, students, new parents or those working two jobs, have experienced feelings of fatigue through sleep deprivation. And many also know if they are overtired, even the simplest tasks may seem more difficult than usual.

Brian Dalton, an Assistant Professor in UBC Okanagan's School of Health and Exercise Sciences, says despite the high prevalence of sleep deprivation, little is known about its effects on perceived and performance fatigability.

Perceived fatigability, he explains, refers to how a person feels about the amount of effort required to do a task, such as curling a dumbbell. It's different than performance fatigability, which is an actual decline in the physical execution of a task. Both can be negatively impacted by lack of sleep, which raises important health, safety and performance concerns for sleep-deprived people.

Dr. Dalton and his team of researchers, including Dr. Chris McNeil and doctoral student Justine Magnuson, recently published an exploratory study that takes a closer look at the physiological changes that occur within the motor pathway from the brain to the muscle as a result of sleep deprivation.

"A person's perception of the effort needed to perform a physically fatiguing task might be markedly different from that person's true performance capacity," says Dr. Dalton. "This is an important consideration given that work and daily life activities are typically carried out based on perceptions of effort and fatigue."

The research was designed to independently assess excitability at the level of the brain and spinal cord during a fatiguing task after sleep deprivation, explains Dr. McNeil. The team also examined the effects of sleep deprivation on the actual performance--monitoring maximal strength of the muscles that bend the elbow and the capacity of the brain to drive these muscles maximally--and a person's perceived fatigue.

Nine participants visited the lab in the late evening, remained onsite overnight and engaged in sedentary activities, such as reading and watching movies, until testing began about 25 hours from their reported wake time the previous day.

For the physically fatiguing task, participants completed a sustained, moderate-intensity elbow flexor contraction, like curling an arm with a dumbbell, for 20 minutes. Before, during and following the task, participants performed maximal effort contractions to test the capacity of their neuromuscular system, while also rating their perceived effort throughout the task.

On a separate day, the participants performed the same procedures but in a well-rested state. By comparing data across the two sessions, the researchers were able to determine the effects of sleep deprivation on the physically demanding task.

The researchers determined that performance-based measures were not affected by sleep deprivation, before, during or after the fatiguing task. However, sleep deprivation increased the perceptions of effort, task difficulty and overall fatigue--making the task seem more difficult than it is when well-rested. Therefore, a person's perceived fatigability is different than their performance fatigability, especially when they are sleep deprived, adds Dr. McNeil.

"A person might be able to maintain their maximum strength when sleep deprived, but sustained or repetitive tasks can be more affected as motivation decreases and perception of fatigue increases," he explains. "These findings could have important implications for workplace safety and everyday tasks.

"Despite our novel findings, owing to the limited sample size, further research is needed to investigate the relationship between the underlying mechanisms of fatigue and determine the potential functional consequences of the incongruent sleep deprived-related effects on performance and the perceived fatigability."

The paper, published last fall in the European Journal of Sport Science, was supported by the Canada Foundation for Innovation and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

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