Rebecca Spencer is interested in the influences of sleep on cognitive function and development. Her most recent work suggests that the benefits of sleep on learning diminish with age that is unrelated to reduced total hours of sleep, and preliminary evidence suggests a possible connection with levels of fragmentation in the REM sleep stage.
As a Family Research Scholar, Spencer worked on several grant proposals to address the question of whether this age-related decline in sleep-dependent memory consolidation also extends to non-motor cognitive tasks, including emotional memory processing. This study has several important implications in the field of family research. First, it may improve the lives of older adults by helping family caretakers understand the benefits of healthy sleeping habits. Second, it may help middle-aged adults recognize and address the risks of sleep deprivation as a result of work, family, and other life stresses. Finally, it may help young adults appreciate the importance of adequate sleep as it relates to their performance at school, driving capabilities and other everyday cognitive and motor activities.