Are you applying for universities? | SHARE YOUR EXPERIENCE Are you applying for universities? | SHARE YOUR EXPERIENCE

ESRC 1+3 and +3 Studentship via SeNSS - Evaluating the efficacy and mechanisms of action of app-based audio tools for improved sleep health in working adult populations: Sleep skills, sounds and stories (2023)

   School of Psychology

This project is no longer listed on and may not be available.

Click here to search for PhD studentship opportunities
  Prof Kate Cavanagh  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Primary supervisor: Prof Kate Cavanagh

Second supervisor: Dr Faith Matcham

Collaborative partner: Unmind

Collaborative partner supervisor: Dr Heather Bolton

Project background

Sleep plays a vital role in maintaining physical and mental health. However, sleep disturbance and insomnia are very common. Insufficient sleep has been shown to adversely impact a range of outcomes including cognitive performance, mental health, emotional regulation, quality of life, relationship satisfaction, workplace and leisure activities. There is an urgent need for evidence-based interventions that improve sleep quantity and/or quality in working-age adults.

Smartphone-based mental health applications (or ‘MHapps’) are a prime delivery medium for sleep interventions, and standalone, audio-based tools (sleep skills, sounds and stories) for sleep designed for ad-hoc use by the general public have dramatically increased in popularity and availability in recent years. There is a lack of empirical evidence regarding the efficacy and mechanisms of app-based sleep tools. This collaborative PhD research program will address this gap in knowledge.

Project aims and objectives

This project explores the experience, mechanisms and effects of MHApp sleep support tools using a variety of methods including systematic literature review, randomised controlled trial design, interview protocols, and physiological data analysis from wearable sensors. Specifically, we will address these important questions:

  1. What is already known about the experience, mechanisms and effects of MHApp sleep support tools?
  2. What are the measured mechanisms and effects of MHApp sleep support tools when used by a sleep disturbed population?
  3. Are self-reported effects on sleep duration, sleep regularity and sleep efficiency corroborated by objective sensor data in users of MHApp sleep support tools?
  4. How are MHApp sleep support tools experienced by users? What are their perceived benefits, weaknesses, challenges, and opportunities?

Training Opportunities

A comprehensive package of training will be agreed in consultation with the supervisors. In terms of project-specific training, you will be well-supported to develop skills in designing and conducting research in collaboration between the academic and commercial research environment. Training will include access to advanced courses in conducting systematic reviews, meta-analyses, qualitative methods, Randomised Controlled Trials, relevant statistical analyses, and statistical approaches to missing data. You will benefit from bespoke training in sensor-based research and data collection and analysis methods, offered by Dr Faith Matcham, the second supervisor and expert in data collection using wearables of this kind.

You will have the opportunity to gain training from the in-house Science team at Unmind, both through regular (monthly) supervision with Dr Heather Bolton (Director of Science), but also through periods of ‘internship’ with the Unmind Science team which includes Clinical Psychologists, Research Scientists and Science Writers. This experience will be hugely beneficial as an experiential opportunity to learn about the drivers and processes of a private sector research team. This will equip you well for future employment in the commercial sector and knowledge exchange research activities.

In addition, you will be able to attend relevant training courses offered by the ESRC National Centre for Research Methods, and will be offered the opportunity to attend career development activities offered by the Sussex Doctoral School. Via the Sussex Researcher Development programme, you can access training in developing skills in project management, research impact and communication and get involved in the Sussex Impact Day, an annual forum with multiple sessions (e.g. on media engagement, networking, pathways to impact) dedicated to supporting understanding about research impact.


Essential and/or desirable attributes/skills

The applicant should hold an undergraduate degree in Psychology or a closely related discipline. The project would suit a student who:

  • Is interested in sleep and wellbeing in working adult populations;
  • Is excited to develop and apply quantitative and qualitative research skills; and,
  • Has strong interpersonal skills and is keen to work in collaboration with the Unmind Science Team.

Studentship details

This studentship may be taken as either a 1+3 year award or a +3 award (a three-year PhD). If you are applying for the 1+3, you will take the Masters in Research Methods in Psychology (code m0145), and will need to note this on your SeNSS HEIapply application. This studentship may be taken full-time or part-time, covers your university fees, and provides you with a stipend of £17,688 per year. You will also be able to apply for additional funding for training via the SeNSS Research Training Support Grant.

Residential eligibility

Whether you are a home or international student, you are eligible for a fully-funded award (your fees will be paid, and you will receive a stipend/salary).

Number of scholarships available



10 February 2023 12:00

How to apply

To apply for this SeNSS studentship, you must first apply for a place to study at the University of Sussex, noting that you are applying for the collaborative studentship. Please go to for information on how to make your application. The deadline for applying to the University of Sussex is 12.00pm (midday) GMT on Friday 10 February 2023. 

You will also need to make a separate second application to SeNSS for funding for this collaborative studentship. Please read the application guidance notes before completing our online application form via the HEIapply platform. The deadline for submitting your application on HEIapply is 12.00pm GMT (midday) on Monday 27 February 2023. No extensions to this deadline will be permitted.

The Guidance Notes are available on the following webpage: Applying for a SeNSS collaborative studentship

Contact us

For enquiries related to the studentship topic, please email Prof Kate Cavanagh

For enquires related to the studentship and the application process, please email [Email Address Removed]


  • 10 February 2023 - deadline for applying for a PhD place at the University of Sussex.(This deadline was originally set at 6 January but has now been moved to 10 February)
  • 27 February 2023 - deadline for completing the SeNSS application form.
  • Interviews will be held in March 2023.
  • Successful applicants will be informed by the end of April 2023.

Funding Notes

Scholarships are for 3 to 4 years and cover PhD tuition fees (or MSc fees if required in year one), a stipend (currently £17,668 pa) plus some research and training costs.

How good is research at University of Sussex in Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience?

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

Click here to see the results for all UK universities
PhD saved successfully
View saved PhDs