The Sleep and Cognition (SaC) Lab is interested in understanding who we are as humans by investigating how we form memories. Memories are at the core of our histories, our perceptions, and our beliefs. By understanding how memories are formed, processed and retained, we can understand how they can be improved, as well as how memory abilities can falter due to aging or disease. We are specifically interested in translational research questions that lead to improving the lives of people with cognitive impairments. We utilize electroencephalography (EEG), functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), pharmacology, psychophysics, and sleep, in collaboration with researchers from a wide range of disciplines including development, political science, memory, vision, sleep, computer modeling, and psychopharmacology. 

    Some of the experimental questions we are exploring include: What are the basic mechanisms of encoding, consolidation and retrieval? Why do some memories tend to become stronger after a period of sleep? What are the specific roles of individual sleep features in consolidation across a wide range of memory domains? What are the roles of individual neurotransmitters in the memory process? Can we enhance memory performance by improving sleep or with pharmacological intervention? 

    Our past research has shown that zolpidem (Ambien), a commonly prescribed sleep medication, possesses properties that when paired with a nap, enhances episodic memory consolidation (Mednick et al. 2013) . Our current research investigates mechanisms underlying this enhancement, as well as the role of acetylcholine during memory formation. This work will lead to novel treatments of memory disorders by tailoring sleep and the neuropharmacological milieu to boost specific memory areas. 

    Other areas of our research investigate how factors like nap behavior, sleep habits, mental health and personality impact health and cognitive outcomes. Previous studies from our lab and others have found differences in daytime sleep architecture and cognitive performance from a nap between habitual nappers and non-nappers (McDevitt et al,. 2012). We are currently following up on these studies by asking whether napping is a trainable skill, and whether genetics might play a role in determining nap habits and the cognitive benefits gained from a nap. In addition, our recent work suggests that personality may have a substantial impact on sleep health (Duggan et al., 2014).  We are currently exploring the causal relationships between personality and sleep, and designing health interventions that take these individual differences into account.