Treating trauma during sleep

Website University of Amsterdam

Institute: UvA – VUmc
Lab: Sleep laboratory UvA – Dept. Anatomy and Neurosciences, Neuropsychiatry VUmc
Title of Project: Treating trauma during sleep
Type of Project: Research internship (fundamental research, clinical research)
Supervisor: Drs. A.C. van der Heijden & Dr. L.M. Talamini
Duration: 5-6 months (at minimum)
Start date: Negotiable
End date: 5-6 months from starting date
Application deadline:-
Description of Research Project:
PLEASE NOTE: Speaking Dutch fluently is a requirement for this internship, since all communication with patients (including clinical interviews) will take place in Dutch.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a severe mental disorder associated with significant personal and societal burden. Traumatic memories are at the core of its pathophysiology, resulting in key-symptoms such as nightmares and flashbacks. Currently, first-choice treatment, consisting of exposure-based psychotherapy, such as eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), proves ineffective in half of PTSD-patients. Hence, there is an urgent need to improve treatment.
Sleep is crucial in the treatment of traumatic memories. During exposure-based treatment, traumatic memories get reactivated and subsequently re-encoded with lower fear. This treatment effect is then solidified during memory consolidation while asleep when the ‘neutralized’ memories get integrated in long-term storage, stabilizing them and further reducing their affective charge. Recent advances in basic memory research show that memory consolidation can be significantly enhanced by presenting reminder cues (sounds/scents that were linked to the memory at encoding) during subsequent sleep (targeted memory reactivation (TMR)).
Here, we apply these memory reactivation strategies during sleep for the first time in (PTSD) patients to increase therapeutic effectiveness. Using a controlled design, we predict that re-administering auditory cues, that are already part of a specific PTSD treatment during post-treatment sleep, will increase therapeutic outcome. This is measured as reduced subjective and physiological fear in relation to the targeted memory, as well as reduced overall PTSD symptom level. To visualize the underlying transfer of the memory trace to higher-order memory networks, we will obtain functional MRI during scripted recall of the traumatic event pre/post study.

The student’s role in the project:

·       Working with state of the art research techniques and analyses, such as targeted memory reactivation, high density EEG, fMRI and sleep analyses

·       Assisting with data collection (clinical interviews with PTSD patients, fMRI, EEG, targeted memory reactivation – depending on the students’ qualifications and interests)

·       In parallel, performing a data-analysis on an already-existing dataset from the UvA sleep laboratory. These analyses are similar to the ones which will be applied to the new PTSD data

·       Working with PTSD patients

·       Assisting with sleep recordings, these will take place at the UvA sleep laboratory, outside office hours. The student is required to be available for these recordings

·       Working at the intersection of fundamental and clinical research

·       Take part in an interdisciplinary team of psychiatrists, neurobiologists and sleep experts

·       Programming, especially in Matlab, will be part of the internship. Having experience with writing or editing Matlab scripts would be a plus


Contact Person:
Drs. A.C. van der Heijden (Christa).

(Other project members are: Dr. H.J.F. van Marle (Project manager), Dr. L.M. Talamini, Prof. Y.D. van der Werf, Prof. O.A. van den Heuvel)
Contact Information:
Website: (patient information website)
Are you a highly motivated, flexible, fluently-Dutch-speaking student who is available for 6 months? Please attach your CV + motivation letter.

To apply for this job email your details to