UMass Amherst Researcher Rebecca Spencer Featured in Netflix Series and PBS NOVA Program

Rebecca Spencer
Rebecca Spencer

AMHERST, Mass. – A University of Massachusetts neuroscientist will be featured in two television programs in February that will highlight her research on sleep.

Rebecca Spencer, a professor in psychological and brain sciences, is featured in a new Netflix series called “Babies,” which debuts on Friday, Feb. 21 on the streaming service. On Wednesday, Feb. 26, Spencer also appears in a PBS NOVA program called “Mysteries of Sleep.” Check local listings for PBS program times.

“Babies” is a docu-series that follows 15 international families that were filmed over the course of a year and explores everything related to babies from the newborn stage to toddler. The show incorporates scientific research on babies, including in Spencer’s SomneuroLab at the UMass Amherst Institute for Applied Life Sciences (IALS). A film crew from the London-based producer Nutopia visited the UMass campus in March 2019 to film Spencer working with infants and their parents in her sleep lab.

Spencer also will be featured on the PBS NOVA episode “Mysteries of Sleep,” which airs on Feb. 26. The program shows that during sleep, the brain performs several tasks that are essential to well-being and normal development: It processes emotions; it manages and stores memories; and it may also help people learn and remember new things. The program follows scientists who are using cutting edge technologies to learn what happens in bodies during sleep and what are the effects of sleep disorders that prevent people from getting the sleep that they need.

The SomneuroLab broadly explores a range of questions pertaining to sleep and learning and the intersection between them. Spencer and her team use a variety of techniques to explore how the brain learns cognitive and motor tasks and how this brain function changes over sleep.

Spencer’s current work is broadly on the functions of sleep, including topics such as the function of naps for preschool children and the role of age-related changes in sleep on age-related cognitive decline.