Waking to Dreaming and Back: Exploring Sleep-Wake Interactions on Cognitive Function
The School of Biological and Behavioural Sciences at Queen Mary is one of the UK’s elite research centres. We offer a multi-disciplinary research environment and have approximately 150 PhD students working on projects in the biological and psychological sciences. Our students have access to a variety of research facilities supported by experienced staff, as well as a range of student support services.
The Psychology Department houses multiple human testing facilities, including equipment such EEG, TMS, eyetracking and Virtual Reality (human and rodent), as well as animal testing facilities.
Training and development
Our PhD students become part of Queen Mary’s Doctoral College which provides training and development opportunities, advice on funding, and financial support for research. Our students also have access to a Researcher Development Programme designed to help recognise and develop key skills and attributes needed to effectively manage research, and to prepare and plan for the next stages of their career.
The student will learn to utilize and interpret both human (EEG, eyetracking, VR) testing and analysis methods.
After a bad night’s sleep, we are more irritable and less productive. The effects of sleep on waking cognition have been explored extensively, and we know sleep is vital for memory consolidation. After an unusual day, we are also likely to have intense dreams and a restless sleep. However, the effects of waking experiences on sleep have been largely ignored by empirical science, mainly due to technological limitations. Yet, for example, reports of increased REM sleep when astronauts returned to earth after extended periods in space, point to a mechanism by which waking states affect sleep in a profound way. With the advent of portable devices to measure sleep (for example electroencephalogram [EEG]) and advancements in analytical approaches, as well as the availability of virtual reality (VR), we now have the means to study how novel sensorimotor experiences during waking will modify REM sleep, and subsequently, how this will affect waking cognition.
We focus on REM sleep because of a hotly debated role of REM sleep in cognitive functions, and its paradoxical signatures – motorically vivid dreaming, accompanied by muscle atonia. This paradox breaks down in several sleep parasomnias, e.g. REM sleep behaviour disorder (RBD), when patients start enacting their dreams by physical and often dangerous movements in the bed. Using VR, we will simulate normal and distorted conditions of waking spatial experience, and measure the changes in duration and structure of REM sleep as well as phenomenological changes to dream content. To measure the functional significance of these changes, a spatial navigation task will be used as it is a complex naturally occurring behaviour for which a quantitative readout can be taken, and lends itself to use in VR (e.g. gain changes, teleportation while learning a new spatial environment).
This research has applications for understanding how novel (and abnormal) spatio-temporal experiences change sleep, downstream effects on waking consciousness and cognitive abilities. The findings will be relevant for the understanding and paving the way for detection and treatment of behavioural abnormalities related to sleep disorders, e.g. RBD behaviours. Please contact the researchers for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com
This studentship is open to students applying for CONACyT funding. CONACyT will provide a contribution towards your tuition fees each year and Queen Mary will waive the remaining fee. CONACyT will pay a stipend towards living costs to its scholars.
Eligibility and applying
Applications are invited from outstanding candidates with or expecting to receive a first or upper-second class honours degree in an area relevant to the project , e.g. psychology, neuroscience, computing. A masters degree is desirable, but not essential. Familiarity with Matlab,R,Python (any) is desirable.
Applicants are required to provide evidence of their English language ability. Please see our English language requirements page for details.
Applicants will need to complete an online application form by this date to be considered, including a CV, personal statement and qualifications. Shortlisted applicants will be invited for a formal interview by the project supervisor. Those who are successful in their application for our PhD programme will be issued with an offer letter which is conditional on securing a CONACyT scholarship (as well as any academic conditions still required to meet our entry requirements).
Once applicants have obtained their offer letter from Queen Mary they should then apply to CONACyT for the scholarship as per their requirements and deadlines, with the support of the project supervisor.
Only applicants who are successful in their application to CONACyT can be issued an unconditional offer and enrol on our PhD programme.
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