Exploring the Cognitive and Electrophysiological Effects of Oxygen in Humans


Wesley Vuong

Principal Investigator

Dr. Clayton Dickson


University of Alberta

Grant Type



Mental Health

About the researcher

Wesley Vuong

Implementation Lead at Alberta Health Services

The impact

As anyone who flies to a high elevation destinations is very aware of, the amount of Oxygen (O2) in the air impacts how our body functions. Most studies look at what happens when O2 levels are too low, however this study looked at what happens to the brain when the air has more O2 than usual.

Wes and his lab found that breathing in pure O2 air would increase alertness in brain activity when awake, but sleep-related brain activity when asleep.

The study

People manipulate O2 levels for a number of reasons. Athletes will train at high altitude, Oxygen Bars in Vegas are supposed to give you a competitive edge, and it is an important part of anesthesia for some surgeries. This highlights the importance of understanding how each of these conditions influence our brain and any health consequences that come with it. Surprisingly the effects of high O2 air activity depended on if the eyes were open or not, highlighting the complexity of the brain and the need for studies like this to test not only new treatments, but existing practices as well.

What's next?

Once we were able to demonstrate that brain activity changes due to O2 administration were state-dependent (i.e., if you were awake or if you were in early stages of sleep), the next step of this research was determining the impact of O2 on sleep. This was the premise of a follow-up BONF summer research project where we recruited post-secondary students and asked them to come into the lab to nap while we recorded their brain activity with O2 administration. Working on these projects helped to develop critical thinking and refine Wes’s analytical skills as he pivoted from neuroscience researcher to working in public health. In this new role, Wes remained in the realm of mental health that he is very passionate about and was able to apply his newly refined critical lens and creative problem solving skills.

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