Unit for Experimental Psychiatry

The Unit for Experimental Psychiatry conducts research led by faculty in the Department of Psychiatry's Division of Sleep and Chronobiology at the University of Pennsylvania, located in Philadelphia. This multi-disciplinary group of investigators is focused on studying the dynamics of human physiological and neurobehavioral responses produced by sleep loss and circadian rhythmicity. Experiments on healthy adult volunteers are conducted in a specially equipped, state-of-the art habitat, the Chronobiology Isolation Laboratory (CIL), located in the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP).

Studies in the CIL characterize the relationship between the biological basis of sleep need and circadian physiology, and their control of waking neurobehavioral functions and health, as reflected in mood, physiological alertness, a range of cognitive functions, quantitative EEG/EOG, endocrine, immune, and inflammatory responses. To this end, we are particularly interested in using a variety of techniques (e.g., genetics, brain imaging, psychopharmacology) to identify biomarkers for differential vulnerability to sleep loss and identify differences under basal conditions. Our laboratory studies also evaluate neurobehavioral functioning in response to stress and collaborates in studies of pathologies of sleep and wakefulness (e.g. circadian sleep disorders, hypersomnolence syndromes, insomnias, and insufficient sleep syndromes).

In addition to basic human laboratory research, our faculty conduct many field studies, collaborating with federal and international agencies, research institutions and industry in the following areas: (1) population science on sleep-wake behaviors; (2) development of biomathematical and computational models of sleep and circadian effects on behavior; (3) studies of sleep and performance in simulators and analog environments (e.g., NEEMO undersea laboratory near Key Largo, MARS 500 isolation chamber in Russia); (4) studies sleep and performance in operational environments (e.g., truckers, commercial flight crews, astronauts on the International Space Station); (5) neurobehavioral technology development for use in clinical trials and field studies of occupational fatigue; and (6) studies on the effects of traffic noise on sleep and recuperation.

Our overarching goal is to discover new ways to effectively detect, prevent and treat neurobehavioral and physiological impairments from sleep loss and related stressors, and their adverse effects on health, behavior, and safety, using novel behavioral, pharmacological, and technological countermeasures. We make our findings known through scientific publications, and participate in public policy areas involving human health and safety relative to lifestyle factors that impact sleep need. The Unit’s research is currently funded by grants from NIH, FAA, NASA, the Translational Research Institute for Space Health, and the European Commission.