Theme Leader
Professor Shantha Rajaratnam
Telephone: +61 3 990 53934

About Sleep Research

The Sleep and Circadian Medicine Laboratory is part of the School of Psychological Sciences. Our research encapsulates a multi-disciplinary program that aims to investigate the contribution of sleep regulatory processes on waking function, health and safety. We aim to develop novel treatments and preventative measures for sleep disruption and circadian rhythm misalignment. Our research projects span the molecular/genetic to behavioural levels. We study a range of populations, from young adults with normal sleep patterns for the study of normal physiology, to the elderly, people with sleep disorders, clinical populations with co-morbid sleep disturbances, and those exposed to altered sleep health, such as shift workers.

Phenotyping and Treating Obstructive Sleep Apnoea

The Sleep and Circadian Medicine Laboratory has two major programs of Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA) research, led by Dr Bradley Edwards. The first program focusses on developing novel therapies for the treatment of OSA, by aiming to understand the physiology causing an individual’s OSA and to then use this information to refine personalised treatment therapies. The second program aims to examine the exact mechanisms by which obesity increases the risk of OSA, and to understand the important factors linking obesity with OSA.

Development of Systems and Biomarkers to Assess Alertness

Prolonged wakefulness has a widespread effect on core brain functions, which leads to an increased risk of errors, accidents, and injuries. Objective methods to measure and predict alertness failure during safety critical tasks would cut accidents, injuries and associated costs, and improve performance and productivity. However, the capacity to accurately measure, monitor, and manage alertness levels remains inadequate. Led by Dr Clare Anderson, we are investigating a host of new potential biomarkers for alertness that will allow for the early detection of sleepiness-related impairments, including the use of subtle changes in speech, sensitive eye movement measures, and body chemicals.

Circadian Mechanisms and Treatment for Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder

Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder (DSPD) is a primary sleep disorder characterised by difficulty in initiating sleep at night and subsequent difficulty awakening for school/work commitments. The physiological basis of DSPD is largely unknown, however researchers in our laboratory have recently differentiated between two distinct phenotypes of DSPD: Circadian, and Non-Circadian. A research team lead by Professor Shantha Rajaratnam is currently investigating the impact of these phenotypes of levels of depression and anxiety, daytime sleepiness and functioning, and quality of life. In a related, but separate research program, Dr Sean Cain and colleagues are investigating how changes in the sensitivity of the circadian clock to evening light may play a pivotal role in the manifestation of this disorder. Lastly, a multi-site, randomised-controlled trial was recently completed, assessing the benefits of melatonin administration for treatment of DSPD.

Assessing Individual Vulnerability to Shift Work

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 1.4 million Australians are shift workers, with women comprising half of this total, and the health industry encompassing the largest body of shift workers. Our laboratory has two major arms of research investigating individual vulnerability to shift work. The first, led by Dr Sean Cain, aims to elucidate a physiological basis for decreased tolerance to shift work in women and increased susceptibility to adverse cognitive and health outcomes, through examination of fundamental differences in circadian system functioning. The second arm, led by Dr Tracey Sletten, is facilitating the development and implementation of evidence-based interventions in hospitals designed to improve alertness and performance, including scheduling, smart lighting, and individualised sleep health management programs.

CRC for Alertness, Safety and Productivity

The Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for Alertness, Safety and Productivity aims to reduce the burden of impaired alertness on the safety, productivity and health of Australians. Our innovative research strategy is drawn from disciplines including medicine and public health, biomedical sciences, psychology, cognitive neuroscience and human factors, physics and biophysical modelling, electrical and bioengineering, lighting design, occupational health and safety, and road safety. The CRC for Alertness, Safety and Productivity is a research consortium comprising 25 organisations including universities along with independent research institutes, industry, policy and regulatory agencies and insurers.

Find out more about the CRC for Alertness, Safety and Productivity.


Read and access our key publications.