Does Insomnia Cause Revenge Seeking Behavior? Using a Puzzle-Based Sleep Lab Educational Escape Room to Teach Circadian Rhythms in a Large Introductory Neuroscience Course

Boris Nakashyan and Erin B.D. Clabough



Traditional large lecture classes can be passive experiences for students. Instead, imagine that several of those learners work at a sleep laboratory and admit four new patients. Within hours, the entire facility is on lockdown, and a mysterious voice on the intercom proclaims that all researchers will lose their ability to sleep within the next hour. This story is the plot of an interactive educational escape room (EER) where students work together and apply concepts related to the history of sleep research, circadian rhythms, and neurological concepts of sleep to solve puzzles. Conventionally, escape rooms are an entertainment experience that requires participants to escape a room in a limited timeframe.  We have created a neuroscience EER designed to educate students about the neural basis of sleep, while providing small groups of students with an immersive and interactive experience. Students follow a specially designed digital escape room framework to review sleep pathways, researchers, and brain regions involved with sleep. Unlike conventional escape rooms that can accommodate a limited number of participants, this sleep lab EER is scalable to hundreds of students without the need for a specialized room. Puzzles are enhanced by digital technology that allows instructors to track the progress of every team and note how the entire classroom is doing. Students and teaching assistants had very positive experiences with this EER activity, reporting that the EER solidified course concepts while using creativity, collaboration, and critical thinking skills. We find that EERs are an easy, useful tool to increase engagement and boost inclusivity within large classroom settings, with potential to also be used as an assessment tool.