Sleep, Alertness and Circadian Dynamics


This research area is concerned with developing quantitative, physiologically-based, mathematical models of the diurnal, circadian, and ultradian processes that govern sleep dynamics. It also involves applying the results to design and interpret experiments and clinical studies, and to develop means of monitoring and predicting sleep-wake dynamics for use in real-world settings, with commercial applications.


Professor Peter Robinson, Dr Svetlana Postnova

Research Location

School of Physics

Program Type



We have developed the first quantitative, physiologically-based, mathematical model of the brainstem ascending arousal system that governs sleep and wake, and have shown that it successfully reproduces a range of normal and sleep-deprived behaviors. We have recently combined it with a model of the internal, light-driven circadian oscillator of the suprachiasmatic nucleus to enable us to address issues such as jet lag, shiftwork, fatigue, and other phenomena. The model also allows the effects of pharmacological agents (caffeine, alcohol, etc.), stimuli, and other effects to be included, and can be coupled to the group's highly successful EEG-generation model to predict sleep-wake signatures in the EEG. Numerous areas exist for PhD, MSc, or Honors projects, which could include theoretical, computational, experimental, and/or industry components in cooperation with our collaborators at the CRC for Alertness, Safety, and Productivity, the Woolcock Institute, the Neurosleep CRE, and industry partners.

Specific projects lie in areas including:
1) Application of the model to predict and quantify individual performance and fatigue responses to sleep deprivation and shift work, with relevance to transport safety and other high-risk occupations.
2) Application to narcolepsy, fatal familial insomnia, age related sleep fragmentation, seasonal affective disorder, and other conditions.
3) Analysis of the mode of action of stimulants, sedatives, and other agents, and the resulting sleep dynamics in each case.
4) Prediction and development of automated analysis of EEG correlates of sleep stages, including new means of signal analysis and real-time state estimation.
5) Development of tools to aid in overcoming jetlag and sleep deprivation, and adapting to shift work.
6) Use of the model to analyze data in new and more powerful ways.

Additional Information

Our approach is to formulate an overall project topic in close consultation with the prospective student, and to allow the approach and details to evolve with increasing student input as the candidature develops. Excellent facilities are available to carry out all aspects of the work, including access to computing resources, sleep data, and laboratories. Because of the highly interdisciplinary nature of the spectrum of projects, students from a wide variety of backgrounds will be able to find suitable projects in this area, with emphases ranging from highly theoretical to highly applied/clinical in nature, and on into patenting and commercialization through industry contacts. Successful existing and past students have had backgrounds in Physics, Medicine, Engineering, IT, Psychology, Mathematics, Physiology, and other areas. Top-up funding may be available for students of University Medal standard, or equivalent. Travel support to present research results at national and international conferences is also available.

HDR Inherent Requirements

In addition to the academic requirements set out in the Science Postgraduate Handbook, you may be required to satisfy a number of inherent requirements to complete this degree. Example of inherent requirement may include:

- Confidential disclosure and registration of a disability that may hinder your performance in your degree;
- Confidential disclosure of a pre-existing or current medical condition that may hinder your performance in your degree (e.g. heart disease, pace-maker, significant immune suppression, diabetes, vertigo, etc.);
- Ability to perform independently and/or with minimal supervision;
- Ability to undertake certain physical tasks (e.g. heavy lifting);
- Ability to undertake observatory, sensory and communication tasks;
- Ability to spend time at remote sites (e.g. One Tree Island, Narrabri and Camden);
- Ability to work in confined spaces or at heights;
- Ability to operate heavy machinery (e.g. farming equipment);
- Hold or acquire an Australian driver’s licence;
- Hold a current scuba diving license;
- Hold a current Working with Children Check;
- Meet initial and ongoing immunisation requirements (e.g. Q-Fever, Vaccinia virus, Hepatitis, etc.)

You must consult with your nominated supervisor regarding any identified inherent requirements before completing your application.

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biological physics, biomathematics, brain dynamics, sleep research, sleep medicine, circadian rhythms, diurnal rhythms, nonlinear dynamics, physics, Neuroscience, Biophysics, brain state, fatigue, performance, safety, Modelling, sleep disorders.

Opportunity ID

The opportunity ID for this research opportunity is: 657

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