Using Tools to Better Understand the Impact of Sleep on the Brain

Research in the lab is focused on understanding the way sleep affects cognitive and emotional processing using a combination of behavioral, physiological, and computational tools.

Ongoing Project

The Effect of Sleep on the Identification of Patterns and False Composite Memories

Sleep has been shown to be involved in the process of memory consolidation. Specifically, biological evidence suggests that slow-wave sleep, also known as “deep-sleep”, involves the reactivation of recently acquired memories. It is assumed that such reactivation allows proper integration of those memories into existing knowledge networks in the brain while preventing the override of previous memories. Research also suggests that slow-wave sleep can aid in pattern recognition. In particular, studies have shown that participants engaging in a memory task tend to perform better or even identify hidden patterns or rules in a memory task following slow-wave sleep. Occasionally, retrieval errors following slow-wave sleep occur, and false composite memories are created. When presented the words “car” and “pet” in close temporal proximity to each other, participants are more likely to recall seeing the word “carpet” in the original word list if they entered slow-wave sleep. This is the case for words being presented in a forward direction (e.g., “car” then “pet”) as well as a backward direction (e.g., “pet” then “car”). When the words are presented too far apart, the composite word is not created.

Ongoing Project

The Effect of Sleep on Emotional Regulation and Fear Learning

Our lab studies will explore the role of sleep on emotion regulation and coping following stress and the development of post-traumatic stress. We will investigate the role of pre-existing sleep patterns on the development of post traumatic symptoms following a traumatic event. Our populations of interest are populations who are subject to high stress situations, such as firefighters and emergency medical services (EMS). In addition, we will study sleep patterns in college students to examine the role of pre-existing sleep on academic stress.