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Rebecca Spencer - University of Massachusetts Amherst. Amherst, MA, US

Rebecca Spencer

Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences | University of Massachusetts Amherst


Rebecca Spencer is one of the nation's leading researchers exploring the relationship between sleep and brain function.

Expertise (7)

Children and Napping


Sleep and Learning

Learning and Memory

Children and Sleep


Sleep Memory and Learning


A leading expert on the of the relationship between sleep, memory and learning and how these change across the life span, Rebecca Spencer has appeared in media ranging from the New York Time to PBS, the BBC, Netflix and Glamour magazine.

She leads the Somneurolab at UMass Amherst, where her research team uses a variety of techniques to
explore how the brain operates during sleep and how this processing affects daytime cognition.

Social Media






Dr. Rebecca Spencer - Sleep on it! Dr. Rebecca Spencer Why do we sleep? Dr. Rebecca Spencer on What Happens to Your Brain When it's Low on Sleep


Education (2)

Purdue University: Ph.D., Neuroscience

Hope College: B.A., Biology/Kinesiology

Select Media Coverage (13)

Can a nap make up for a bad night of sleep?

The Straits Times  online


Rebecca Spencer, professor psychological and brain sciences, says that while a midday nap will probably replenish your energy enough to get you through your day, it will not necessarily negate the health risks that may come with insufficient sleep at night.


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Women are more likely to be sleep deprived. Here’s why that’s so bad.

National Geographic  online


Rebecca Spencer comments on research about the impact of sleep deprivation on learning. “Sleep plays a very active role in memory consolidation,” she says. She describes the hippocampus as a desk where papers get piled up throughout the day. “When you sleep, those ‘papers’ are filed away into a long-term filing cabinet to be retrieved as needed.” That “filing cabinet” is the cerebral cortex. “While memory consolidation can happen while awake, this process is stronger or greatest during sleep.”

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Can a Nap Make Up for a Bad Night of Sleep?

The New York Times  online


It’s important to understand that while a midday nap will probably replenish your energy enough to get you through your day, said Rebecca Spencer, a sleep science researcher at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, it won’t necessarily negate the health risks that may come with insufficient sleep at night. Here's why.


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Later school start times eyed to address youth mental health crisis

ABC News  tv


Rebecca Spencer comments about the possibility of pushing school start times back later in the morning in an effort to improve youth mental health.

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How learning happens in the brains of sleeping babies

The Washington Post  print


Rebecca Spencer says children shouldn’t abandon the practice of napping as they get older. “Naps are awesome — they’re doing all of this important stuff for kids at a really critical time. Why stop napping when it’s so important?”

sleeping baby

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Yes, Naps Are Good for You — If You Do It Right

Discover magazine  print


“We've now found that sleep serves a lot of great functions. It's not surprising. That's why we spend so much time doing it,” says Rebecca Spencer, a sleep researcher at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. “The long story short is there’s a lot of evidence that naps confer all of those same benefits.”

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How to Fall Asleep Faster, According to Powerful Women

Glamour  print


Use your own natural melatonin. How do you do that? By avoiding light in the last half hour to hour before bedtime. Of course, complete darkness may be hard to achieve, but dim the light on your phone or computer and turn off any extra lights in the room in the final hour before bed. Avoid watching tense movies, reading cliffhangers, checking work emails, or engaging in emotional “chats” before bed too. You’ll fall asleep faster. —Rebecca Spencer, neuroscience professor

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Naps don’t work for everyone. Genetic differences are why

The Washington Post  print


“If you are a regular napper, you can get these two forces [HSP and your circadian rhythm] into a good rhythm so they are nicely balanced,” says Rebecca Spencer, professor of psychological and brain sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. “The problem is few people nap so regularly.”

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NOVA: Mysteries of Sleep

PBS  tv


Rebecca Spencer talks about what exactly is happening in our brains when we sleep.

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Sleep Provides 'Remarkable Effects' On Protecting Our Memories, Says Rebecca Spencer

Boston Public Radio  radio


Rebecca Spencer, professor of psychological and brain sciences at UMass Amherst, joined Boston Public Radio on Wednesday to discuss her role in NOVA's newest special Mysteries of Sleep.

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Netflix Series: Babies

Netflix  online


Rebecca Sepncer is featured in an episode on Sleep in the Netflix series, "Babies," hiighliting her work studying the connection between sleep, learning and memory in young children.

Netflix: Babies

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TV Not a Good Sleep Aid for Young Kids

U.S. News & World Report  online


Researchers looked at 470 children aged 3 to 5 in Massachusetts and found that those who watched less than one hour of TV per day got 22 more minutes of sleep at night -- nearly 2.5 more hours per week -- than those who watched more TV on a daily basis. "Parents assumed that TV was helping their kids wind down. But it didn't work. Those kids weren't getting good sleep, and it wasn't helping them fall asleep better," said study author Rebecca Spencer, a neuroscientist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

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When the going gets tough, have a nap

BBC  online


hen her daughter was preschool-aged, Rebecca Spencer experienced something familiar to many parents and childminders: the power of a nap. Without it, her daughter would be giddy, grumpy, or both. Spencer, a neuroscientist focusing on sleep at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, wanted to investigate the science behind this anecdotal experience. “The observation of a lot of people is that a napless kid is emotionally dysregulated,” she says. “So that spurred us to ask this question of, ‘Do naps actually do something to process emotions?’”

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Select Publications (2)

Contributions of memory and brain development to the bioregulation of naps and nap transitions in early childhood

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Rebecca M.C. Spencer and Tracy Riggins


The transition from multiple sleep bouts each day to a single overnight sleep bout (i.e., nap transition) is a universal process in human development. Naps are important during infancy and early childhood as they enhance learning through memory consolidation. However, a normal part of development is the transition out of naps. Understanding nap transitions is essential in order to maximize early learning and promote positive long-term cognitive outcomes. ...

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Pandemic Sleep Advice Straight From Sleep Researchers


Kelly Baron, PhD, MPH, Brendan Duffy RPSGT CCSH, Michael Grandner, PhD, MTR, Jared Saletin, PhD, Rebecca Spencer, PhD, and John Hogenesch, PhD


In the age of coronavirus, sleep is more important — and more elusive — than ever. Sleep researchers are here to help.

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