We each spend about a third of our lives sleeping. Why? As a cognitive neuroscientist, Dr. Erin Wamsley studies this relatively uncharted territory, exploring the function of sleep, the brain basis of dreaming, and the role of resting states in memory consolidation more broadly.

Dr. Wamsley began her academic career as a liberal arts student at Guilford College in North Carolina, where she double-majored in psychology and philosophy. She then went on to complete her doctoral studies at the City University of New York, where she spent long hours working in a sleep lab in Harlem, teaching undergraduates at City College, and failing to get enough sleep herself. After obtaining her Ph.D. in 2007, Dr. Wamsley began a postdoctoral fellowship in the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, where she was later promoted to instructor of psychiatry. During this time, Dr. Wamsley primarily focused on her research, authoring more than 30 research articles, reviews, and book chapters.

Joining the Psychology department and Neuroscience major at Furman in 2014, Dr. Wamsley is returning to her liberal arts roots and a love of undergraduate education. She looks forward to working with students in the classroom, in the laboratory, and everywhere in between. She also keeps busy with a husband, a toddler, and two cats (named after features of the sleep EEG: “Ripple” and “Spindle”).

Dr. Wamsley is always looking for motivated students to work with her on research in the The Furman Sleep Lab. 


Name Title Description


Psuedoscience & Skepticism

Using engaging examples in pseudoscience and the paranormal, the course will serve as a lively introduction to the scientific attitude, and to critical thinking in general. Students will learn how to critically evaluate extraordinary claims, and how to construct an effective argument. Topic areas include ESP, alien abductions, astrology, homeopathic medicine, conspiracy theories, and recovered memories. There is some overlap with existing courses on evaluation of scientific claims in the media.


General Psychology

Comprehensive introduction to psychology as a behavioral science through a survey of historical, empirical, and theoretical perspectives of psychological research. Topics include: biological bases of behavior, development, learning, personality, cognition, perception, motivation, behavior disorders, and social psychology. Students must either participate in research projects or write summaries of published research articles.


Functional Neuroanatomy

The anatomy of the brain and spinal cord, and how the structure of the central nervous system supports functions including homeostasis, perception, action, and cognition. Hands-on, interactive activities and student-centered learning.


The Sleeping Brain


EEG Methods

Students learn the fundamentals of EEG data collection and analysis through a mixture of instruction and hands-on experience. During the second half of the course, students will work together in small groups to design, execute, and analyze data from a simple EEG experiment.

Dr. Wamsley's research concerns the function of "offline" states of sleep and rest, and especially their role in the consolidation of memory. In her laboratory, research questions include:

  • What happens to a memory after initial learning? One arm of Dr. Wamsley's research explores the hypothesis that recent memories are actively processed in the sleeping brain, as new learning is "consolidated" over time.
  • What is happening in the brain during sleep? To better understand the brain dynamics that support memory consolidation, Dr. Wamsley's research takes advantage of innovative methods in EEG.
  • How does the sleeping brain generate dream experiences? Dr. Wamsley's past research suggests that dreams may result in part from the reactivation of recent memories in the sleeping brain.

To learn more, browse the publications below, take a course with Dr. Wamsley, or stop by the The Furman Sleep Lab and see what it's all about!

  • Nguyen, N.D., Tucker, M.A., Stickgold, R. & Wamsley, E.J. (2013). Overnight sleep enhances hippocampus-dependent aspects of spatial memory. SLEEP.
  • Wamsley, E.J., Tucker, M.A., Shinn, A., Ono, K., McKinley, S., Ely, A., Goff, D., Stickgold, R. & Manoach, D. (2012). Reduced sleep spindles and spindle coherence in schizophrenia: Mechanisms of impaired memory consolidation? Biological Psychiatry 71(2), 154-161. Full text on PubMed Central: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3561714
  • Wamsley, E.J., Emberger, K., Djonlagic, I., Babkes, L. & Stickgold, R. (2010). Cognitive replay of visuomotor learning at sleep onset. SLEEP, 33(1), 59-68. Full text on PubMed Central: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2802248/
  • Wamsley, E.J. & Stickgold, R. (2010). A brief nap is beneficial for human route learning: The role of initial skill level and EEG spectral power. Learning & Memory, 17(7), 332-336. Full text on PubMed Central: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2904102/
  • Tamminen, J., Payne, J.D., Wamsley, E.J., Stickgold, R. & Gaskell, M. (2010). Sleep spindle activity is associated with the integration of new memories and existing knowledge. Journal of Neuroscience, 30(43), 14356-60. Full text on PubMed Central: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2989532
  • Wamsley, E.J. & Stickgold, R. (2010). Dreaming and offline memory processing. Current Biology, 20(23), R1010-R1013. Full text on PubMed Central: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3557787
  • Wamsley, E.J. & Antrobus, J.S. (2009). The expression of trace conditioning during non-REM sleep and its relation to subjective experience. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, 92(3), 283-291.
  • Payne, J.D., Schacter, D.L., Propper, R., Huang, L., Wamsley, E.J., Tucker, M.A., Walker, M., & Stickgold, R. (2009). The role of sleep in false memory formation. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, 92(3), 327-334. Full text on PubMed Central: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2789473/

Postdoctoral Fellowship
Harvard Medical School
City University of New York
Guilford College

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