An ERC grant to understand the impact of sleep-wake cycles on our cognitive aging.


Christina Schmidt, a researcher at the Cyclotron Research Center and PsyNCog Research Unit, has just been selected to receive an ERC Starting Grant from the European Research Council. This grant (around 1.5 million Euros), was awarded to pursue research that explores the link between circadian regulation of the sleep-wake cycle and cognitive aging (COGNAP). Congratulations!

NAP ERC Chrsitina Schmidt

This is a great year for Christina Schmidt, recently elected as a Research Associate at the Belgian Fund for Scientific Research (F.R.S.-FNRS), who has just been awarded the highly coveted ERC Starting Grant. Graduated from the University of Liège in Psychology in 2004, Christina Schmidt is currently working at GIGA, in the Sleep Research Group (Cyclotron Research Center) and the PSyNCog Research Unit (Faculty of Psychology). Her research interests focus on the link between cognition and sleep with a chronobiological approach through circadian rhythms, focusing on cognitive aging. .

The identification of factors associated with the interindividual variability of cognitive aging is a promising area of ​​research. The COGNAP research program, for which Christina Schmidt has just been awarded an ERC Starting Grant, predicts that the variability of circadian rhythmicity - given its strong involvement in neuro-protective functions - contributes to cognitive changes related to age.

Circadian rhythms are present at all levels of the nervous system. These rhythms shape the temporal organization of sleep and awakening, which is characterized by a consolidated period of sleep at night and waking during the day. Aging is associated with a fragmentation of the sleep-wake cycle. The increased incidence of the adoption of a nap habit with age is a very visible manifestation of this fragmentation.

Contrary to the common belief, epidemiological studies indicate that the chronic adoption of a nap habit can represent a risk factor for health. In her research project, the young scientist postulates that chronic napping in the elderly mainly reflects a disturbance of the circadian organization of the sleep-wake cycle, and that this disturbance is associated with lower cognitive performance. It is further postulated that a re-stabilization of the circadian organization of the sleep-wake cycle by an intervention aimed at suppressing napping habits would reduce the cognitive decline related to age.

Characterizing the link between cognitive aging and the temporal distribution of sleep and wakefulness will not only bring ground-breaking advances at the scientific level, but is also timely in the aging society. Cognitive decline as well as inadequately timed sleep, represent dominant determinants of the health span of our fast ageing population and easy implementable intervention programs are urgently needed.

ERC Starting Grants

The ERC Grants are major instruments deployed by the European Research Council to fund research projects in Europe. The highly selective procedure retains only top researchers and research projects, combining boldness and competence to tackle unprecedented research paths that, if successful, can substantially enrich knowledge.

There are 4 types of grants: Start Grants, Consolidator Grants, Advanced Grants and Proof of Concept

ERT Sarting grants are designed to help young researchers (2-7 years of experience since completion of PhD) with a very promising scientific background and excellent research proposal.

Christina Schmidt EN

In 2004, in the final year of psychology at the University of Liège, Christina Schmidt is doing an internship at the CRC (Cyclotron Research Center). She discovered to the question of sleep and circadian rhythms.

Before beginning her PhD thesis, about the influence of sleep pressure, circadian rhythms, chronotype and age on cognitive performance, she has the opportunity to have a research trip in 2005 at the Center of Chronobiology of the University of Basel. She stayed there for a year and a half before returning to the CRC with the status of aspirant of the FNRS. She defended her thesis in 2009 and then spent 4 years at the Chronobiology Center in Basel,  as post-doctoral funded by a SNF scholarship (Swiss equivalent of the FNRS). In 2014, she returned to the CRC and just received now a FNRS mandate as Research Associate.

His research theme focuses on the link between cognition and sleep with a chronobiological approach through circadian rhythms. She is particularly interested in cognitive aging. His current project is studying the incidence of naps in seniors (65 to 85 years) on sleep and cognitio


Christina SCHMIDT
GIGA-CRC in Vivo Imaging
Sleep Research Group
+32(0)4 366 50 74

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