Skip to content

PhD in Psychology: Sleep Engineering to manipulate memory: detecting replay with classifiers, modelling the system, and manipulating with TMR

Key facts

Application deadline 30 June 2019
Start date 1 October 2019
Duration 3 years
Level of study Postgraduate research
Award type PhD studentship
Number of studentships 1

We spend 1/3rd of our life asleep, and the brain is very busy during this time. Memories are spontaneously reinstated during sleep, and this reinstatement has been linked to consolidation, or strengthening of the memories involved.


This can lead to integration of new memories with each other and with existing knowledge, providing a basis for creativity.

Intriguingly, scientists can control this reactivation, and thus selectively strengthen and weaken specifically targeted memories using a method called Targeted Memory Consolidation (TMR).

In future, this may lead to a sci-fi like scenario in which we can actively manipulate people’s memories – see our TEDx talk on sleep engineering for an easy intro.

Project aims and methods

However, much remains to be understood about what neural replay in sleep is actually doing. We aim to understand how replay impacts on neuroplasticity and interactions between the brain structures such as the quick learning hippocampus and slow learning neocortex.

Furthermore, we aim to understand how TMR during different sleep stages (eg. REM/NREM) or during different phases of the signature oscillations of sleep (eg. slow oscillations, sleep spindles, and theta) impact on memory.

This PhD will investigate some of these questions – however we are open to several different methods of investigation.

We would particularly encourage candidates from three different backgrounds, as this project can be approached in three different ways.

  • If you have a computational modelling background, we would encourage you to create a computational model which incorporates not only a learning phase (in wake) but also ‘offline’ processing of memories in the various stages of sleep. You will use computational modelling (likely PDP and/or Deep nets) to gain a better understanding of how memories are consolidated in sleep, and how memory replay in sleep underpins integration of new memories with old and the recombination of ideas which is involved in creativity.
  • If you are a computer science or engineering student with a good background in classifiers, we would encourage you to work on detection of memory replay using EEG data with either EEG analysis or other time series signal processing. As this is a challenging problem we aim to explore and combine techniques from areas such as time series analysis (dynamic time warping), neuroimaging (representation similarity analysis) and deep learning (LSTM, convolutional NN).  Read our paper: Identification of memory reactivation during sleep by EEG classification..
  • If you have a strong background in psychology or cognitive neuroscience with or without an EEG or signal processing background, you will be able to study this system by running behavioural/EEG experiments and applying Targeted Memory Reactivation during sleep. The bulk of our work to date has used these methods, so please see our lab publications.

The Neuroscience and Psychology of Sleep (Naps) lab is a thriving community of computer scientists and sleep researchers studying all aspects of how sleep impacts on cognition.



Clair Southard

Administrative contact

Funding details

Tuition fee support Full UK/EU tuition fees
If applicable, any eligible non-EU candidates must fund the remainder of the overseas fee.
Maintenance stipend Doctoral stipend matching UK Research Council National Minimum
Additional funding offered All School of Psychology students receive conference and participant money (approx. £2,250 for the duration of the studentship). They also receive a computer, office space and access to courses offered by the University’s Doctoral Academy and become members of the University Doctoral Academy.

Eligibility criteria

Residency Open to all UK/EU students without further restrictions
Academic criteria

As only one studentship is available and a very high standard of applications is typically received, the successful applicant is likely to have a very good first degree (a First or Upper Second class BSc Honours or equivalent) and/or be distinguished by having relevant research experience.

Full awards (fees plus maintenance stipend) are open to UK Nationals, and EU students who can satisfy UK residency requirements.

To be eligible for the full award, EU Nationals must have been in the UK for at least three years prior to the start of the course for which they are seeking funding, including for the purposes of full-time education.


Clair Southard

Administrative contact

Consideration is automatic on applying for the Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology. You will also need to include your CV and a personal statement in support of your application.

In the 'Research proposal and Funding' section of your online application, please specify the project title and supervisors of this project and copy the project description in the text box provided.

Please select 'No, I am not self-funding my research' when asked whether you are self-funding your research.

Please add 'PhD in Psychology: Sleep Engineering to manipulate memory. Detecting replay with classifiers, modelling the system, and manipulating with TMR' when asked 'Please provide the name of the funding you are applying for'.

We reserve the right to close applications early should sufficient applications be received.


Clair Southard

Administrative contact

Join us on Friday 5 July to find out more about postgraduate funding opportunities for September 2019.

Eligible research programmes