Mary A. Carskadon

Professor of Psychiatry & Human Behavior
(401) 421-9440
Office Location: 
Rm 133
Research Focus: 
Neurobiology of human sleep and circadian rhythms

Mary A. Carskadon received a B.A. in psychology from Gettysburg College (1969) and doctorate with distinction in neuro- and biobehavioral sciences from Stanford University (1979). 

Carskadon's research includes examining associations of sleep regulatory mechanisms to sleep/wake behavior of children, adolescents, and young adults. Her findings have raised public health issues regarding consequences of insufficient sleep in adolescents and concerns about early school starting times. Current research examines genetic contributions to these processes and the association of chronic sleep restriction with development of depressed mood. 

Carskadon has written many scientific papers, and she has received a number of honors, including an honorary doctor of sciences degree from Gettysburg College, Lifetime Achievement Award of the National Sleep Foundation, Outstanding Educator and Distinguished Scientist Awards of the Sleep Research Society. She is an elected Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science and Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Research Interests:

TITLE: Intrinsic Circadian Period: Development, Delayed Phase, and Genetic Associations, Part 1: Measuring the Brain's Day Length in Adolescents—Summer Sleep Camp

P.I.: Mary A. Carskadon, Ph.D.

FUNDING SOURCE: National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)

DESCRIPTON: The purpose of this project is to determine the internal day length set by the brain and how the day length may change during adolescent development. The measurement of the brain's internal day length requires an extended period of observation in the time-free laboratory environment under a specific set of circumstances that permit the brain's rhythm to run free from the usual imposed 24 hour cycle. Participants live in the laboratory (Summer Sleep Camp) for up to three weeks in order for this measure to be made. While gathering this important piece of data, we also have the opportunity to make many other observations about the regulation of sleep and sleepiness and the timing of moods and best performance on a number of tasks. We also hope to measure day length in individuals before and after puberty, as well as to follow postpubertal adolescents into young adulthood. Finally, cheek swab samples will be collected in order to examine genes that may be associated with the internal day length.

SIGNIFICANCE: The data from this project will provide crucial information about the mechanisms underlying the regulation of adolescent sleep/wake patterns and how they may change during adolescent development. Furthermore, the behavioral test data may provide a foundation for understanding the timing of classroom behaviors in adolescents.

TITLE: Intrinsic Circadian Period: Development, Delayed Phase, and Genetic Associations, Part 2: Sleep Homeostasis and Adolescent Development - Summer Sleep Camp

P.I.: Mary A. Carskadon, Ph.D.


DESCRIPTION: This project examines the sleeping EEG patterns of adolescents using spectral analysis to assess brain wave patterns across the night. Baseline night data from in-lab evaluations provide an indication of the sleep pressure or sleep "need" in younger versus older adolescents who have been maintaining similar sleep schedules for nearly two weeks. Sleep EEG analyses made after children have been awake for 36 hours tell us how the brain builds up the pressure for sleep and whether this buildup changes across adolescent development. We also plan to examine the buildup of sleep pressure during EEG tests that take place across 36 hours of wakefulness. In addition, this research project aims to follow the same participants before and after they achieve puberty.

SIGNIFICANCE: This project will provide information about the fundamental organization of sleep in the adolescent brain and the ways in which the brain's sleep mechanisms change during adolescent development. Such data can help us understand the contribution of the biological regulatory systems to the shifts in sleep patterns that commonly occur during adolescent development.

OVERALL SIGNIFICANCE OF THESE PROJECTS: Basic knowledge gained and discovery of genetic associations with these biological processes can help target ways to improve teen sleep and waking behavior and may even help with treatment for adolescent sleep disorders. This information will equip us better to intervene effectively to improve sleep patterns for adolescents in whom sleep and daytime sleepiness are a problem. Such information may also help us influence societal trends, such as early school start and late night activities that seem to run counter to the biological sleep needs and propensities of adolescents.

TITLE: Prospective Study of Depressed Mood, Short Sleep and Serotonergic Genes (Does Short Sleep Lead to Depressed Mood by Altering Serotonin Receptor Function?)

P.I.: Mary A. Carskadon, Ph.D.


DESCRIPTON: The transition to college is a major life change that often involves insufficient sleep, as well as changes to the timing of sleeping and waking behavior. Further, college students often experience depressed mood. This project uses the transition to college as a model system to examine whether the serotonin neurotransmitter system (specifically the 5-HT1a receptor) is involved in depressed mood of college students. Students are evaluated in the spring before entering college; selection to the college part of the study is based on the springtime information about sleep patterns and pre-existing mood disorders. On entry into college, the students complete a daily sleep-wake diary and give a cheek swab sample for gene analysis to examine genetic vulnerability.

SIGNIFICANCE: This project will determine whether short sleep can lead to depressed mood in college students. Depression is a serious concern among college students—an impediment to academic performance and a risk for suicide. These studies will examine whether students are susceptible to depression if they carry a certain genetic background and then get too little sleep and whether the association is related to the serotonin system. Such knowledge can help target prevention of the development of depression.