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NWO grant for Andrea Evers and Jelle van Leusden

Prof. dr. Andrea Evers has received an NWO research talent grant with Jelle van Leusden as the PhD candidate. This grant enables them to start a research project to examine whether the circadian rhythm can be conditioned during sleep.

Automatically regulated responses

Imagine that we are able to influence physiological processes that are by definition automatically regulated. An example of such a process is the circadian rhythm that follows a 24-hour cycle, like the sleep-wake cycle. Disturbance of this process can cause severe physical and mental problems, for example cardiovascular and affective disorders. Being able to condition automatically regulated responses can lead to new interventions.

Pavlov during sleep

There is increasing evidence that Pavlovian conditioning can affect responses of the endocrine or immune system when someone is awake. Remember Pavlov’s experiments, who discovered classical conditioning in his experiments with dogs. The question is whether automatic learning processes also generate responses during automatically regulated phases. The goal of Evers and Van Leusden is to examine whether these processes can be conditioned during sleep. Both healthy participants and patients who suffer from a disturbed sleep-wake rhythm will participate in the study.

New treatment options

The research project not only extends the current knowledge about conditioning, it may also provide new treatment options for disorders that are related to the circadian rhythm. If automatic processes can be influenced by conditioning, the findings will have huge consequences for many disorders that are associated with disturbed circadian rhythms and sleep problems (e.g. depression, obesity and cancer). New, non-invasive treatment options for these disorders then can be provided.

The research project is a collaboration between the Health, Medical and Neuropsychology unit of Leiden University, the Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC), the Centre for Human Drug Research (CHDR) and the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience (NIN).

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