Funded PhD Opportunity Examining Sleep Disturbances and the Fear of Sleep in Individuals with Trauma Exposure

This opportunity is now closed.

Subject: Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience


Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is highly prevalent and found to develop after exposure to a traumatic event. Researchers have found that individuals with PTSD also have high rates of comorbidity with other disorders (Orsillo et al., 1996; Kessler et al., 1995) and often report sleep disturbances such as severe insomnia, trauma-related nightmares, nocturnal panic attacks, and other complex motor behaviors (Germain, 2013). In fact, Miller et al. (2012) reported that 93% of participants reported disturbed sleep (mainly insomnia with difficulty falling or staying asleep) at some point in their lifetime which they directly attributed to a traumatic event, and this symptom was reported at a higher prevalence rate than any other PTSD symptom.

Trauma-related insomnia was also observed as the most prevalent symptom (81% of the sample) within a sample of treatment seeking veterans (Miller et al., 2012). This reported insomnia was measured independently from nightmares, which were endorsed by 66% of the civilian sample and by 78% of the veteran sample (Miller et al., 2012). Moreover, experiencing sleep disturbances soon after a traumatic event has been shown to predict PTSD a year later (Koren et al., 2002), and sleep disturbances have been shown to be associated with severe physical and mental health problems such as suicidal thoughts and depression (Clum et al., 2001; Nishith et al., 2001).

Aside from insomnia and nightmares, research is beginning to examine the role that trauma may have in developing a fear of sleep and how fear of sleep may play a role in the onset and maintenance of PTSD (Spoormaker et al, 2008). Fear of sleep could be related to attempts to avoid nightmares (Neylan et al, 1998) given that researchers such as Krakow et al. (1995) have found that individuals with nightmares reported greater fear of sleep than those without nightmares, and fear of sleep decreases once nightmares reduce in frequency and severity. However, it is important to note additional research showing that individuals with disturbed sleep after trauma report fear of loss of vigilance which relates to poor sleep quality (Pietrzak et al., 2010).

Therefore, The Fear of Sleep Inventory (FOSI), a self‐report measure developed to identify factors contributing to trauma‐related sleep disturbances, has been designed and will be utilized to further examine the relation between trauma and sleep disturbances (Zayfert, et al., 2006). This study will be the first in Northern Ireland to directly examine the relation between trauma exposure, PTSD, fear of sleep and trauma-related sleep disturbances. Better understanding of the underlying mechanisms will provide helpful knowledge about onset, maintenance and reciprocal relationships between trauma and fear of sleep that will have direct implications for treatment as well as prevention.

This project will be conducted using data from diverse samples of trauma victims and will be based at Ulster University, but there will be many opportunities to collaborate with researchers from around the world.

This project will examine how trauma exposure, and possibly a PTSD diagnosis, affects one’s perceptions of sleep including fear of sleep and how these beliefs negatively impact one’s sleep. This project will be conducted using data from diverse samples of trauma victims (victims of rape, child abuse, natural disasters, bereavement, assault, accidents, war etc.).

Essential Criteria

  • Upper Second Class Honours (2:1) Degree or equivalent from a UK institution (or overseas award deemed to be equivalent via UK NARIC)
  • Experience using research methods or other approaches relevant to the subject domain
  • Sound understanding of subject area as evidenced by a comprehensive research proposal
  • A comprehensive and articulate personal statement

Desirable Criteria

If the University receives a large number of applicants for the project, the following desirable criteria may be applied to shortlist applicants for interview.

  • Masters at 65%
  • Experience using research methods or other approaches relevant to the subject domain
  • Sound understanding of subject area as evidenced by a comprehensive research proposal


    Vice Chancellors Research Scholarships (VCRS)

    The scholarships will cover tuition fees and a maintenance award of £15,009 per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). Applications are invited from UK, European Union and overseas students.


    The scholarship will cover tuition fees at the Home rate and a maintenance allowance of £15,009 per annum for three years. EU applicants will only be eligible for the fees component of the studentship (no maintenance award is provided).  For Non EU nationals the candidate must be "settled" in the UK.

Institute of Mental Health

Other information

The Doctoral College at Ulster University

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Current PhD researchers and an alumnus shared their experiences, career development and the social impact of their work at the launch of the Doctoral College at Ulster University.

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Key Dates

Submission Deadline
Monday 18 February 2019
Interview Date
11 to 29 March 2019


Coleraine campus

Coleraine campus
Our coastal and riverside campus focussing on science and health

Contact Supervisor

Professor Cherie Armour

Other Supervisors

Apply online

Visit and quote reference number #342334 when applying for this PhD opportunity