Robert Stickgold, PhD
Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School
Robert Stickgold
Role of Sleep in Memory and Emotional Processing in Healthy Subjects, Schizophrenia and other Psychiatric and Neurologic Disorders

The Stickgold lab’s current work examines the nature and function of sleep and dreams from a cognitive neuroscience perspective, with an emphasis on the role of sleep and dreams in memory consolidation and integration. In addition to behavioral studies, we use cutting edge EEG signal-processing techniques, including wavelet and microstate analyses, as well as fMRI analyses, to identify the brain correlates of these sleep dependent phenomena. We are also investigating alterations in sleep-dependent memory consolidation in patients with sleep apnea, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, autism spectrum disorder, and PTSD.

Our dream studies have demonstrated that dream content can be manipulated experimentally, and that patients with dense amnesia can be induced to dream about experiences for which they have no conscious (declarative) memory. More recently, we have shown that sleep-dependent improvement on a navigation task is correlated with reports of dreaming about the task, providing arguably the strongest evidence to date of a functional role of dreaming, specifically in sleep-dependent memory processing.

We have identified several forms of sleep-dependent memory processing, from the consolidation, cortical reorganization, and enhancement of procedural memory to the extraction and selective consolidation of gist memories and the discovery of the complex rules that govern the world around us.

Our research has shown that one form of sleep-dependent memory processing is absent in patients with schizophrenia, paralleling a disease-related decrease in the frequency of EEG sleep spindles. We have restored this deficit in sleep spindle activity, and possibly even in sleep-dependent memory processing, pharmacologically. We have a similar deficit in sleep dependent memory processing is patients with sleep apnea.