Student opportunities

Background: Healthy sleep is vital for good physical and mental health. Sleep disorders and voluntary and societally-driven sleep restriction have a major negative impact on health, productivity and safety in Australia and internationally. A conservative estimate of the direct and indirect economic cost in Australia of the two most common disorders of obstructive sleep apnoea and insomnia alone is over $5 billion per year. Disturbingly, current health services and policy fail to cost-effectively manage these highly prevalent disorders due to inadequate training and resourcing of primary care professionals in sleep management and over-reliance on specialist services, complex and costly sleep apnea testing and unregulated industry practices. 

To address this problem the Adelaide Institute for Sleep Health (AISH) was recently awarded a 5-year Centre of Research Excellence (CRE) grant by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) to establish a National Centre for Sleep Health Services Research.  The Centre brings together an extensive network of internationally recognised experts in sleep and respiratory medicine/research, general practice, nursing, pharmacy, health services and policy research, epidemiology, health economics and sleep health technologies. Using this expertise it will show how primary care can be placed at the centre of sleep disorders service delivery. 


Aim: The focus will be on deployment of simplified, cost-effective, evidence-based methods for diagnosing and managing sleep problems in primary care, with primary care practitioners better connected and supported with specialist sleep services in a “hub and spoke” model.                               

Potential PhD Project Opportunities

There are a number of potential PhD project opportunities available through the CRE program, including:


PROJECT A. Developing and testing sleep health decision support (eHealth) systems for primary careto assist the GPs and other primary care professionals in screening and managing sleep disorders. A prototype web-based sleep health decision support system has been developed for community use, but will need to be adapted for primary care and tested for effectiveness in a cluster randomised trial. The main aims of this CRE project are therefore to:


  1. Identify the technology gaps and opportunities to assist primary care professionals with screening and management of sleep disorders.

  2. Based on these qualitative research findings, revise and enhance the capability of the sleep health decision support (eHealth) tool for use in primary care, and 

  3. Test the effectiveness of the sleep health decision support system in primary care in a cluster randomised control trial. The aim of the trial will be to show:

            a.   Increased patient self-management of asymptomatic obstructive sleep apnea and improve GP care of sleep apnea

            b.   Decreased hypnotic drug prescriptions and increased non-drug (behavioural) insomnia therapies.


This PhD project would suit an outstanding and enthusiastic candidate with an interest in health services research. Technical background in biomedical engineering, eHealth system,web-development would be an advantage. Dr Andrew Vakulinis the primary supervisor for this project.


PROJECT B. Developing guidelines for sleep health management in primary care. Standardised, practical guidance for primary care professionals is needed on how to screen for and manage sleep disorders. The specific aims are to:

            a.   Review and adapt existing sleep specialist guidelines for use in primary care

            b.   Determine the best ways of implementing the sleep health guidelines in primary care (format, uptake, usability)

            c.   Test the impact of the introduction of sleep health guidelines on GP behaviour and patient outcomes


This PhD project would suit an outstanding and enthusiastic candidate with an interest in translational health services research, health policy, education and public health. Prof Doug McEvoy and Dr Ching Li Chai-Coetzerare the PhD supervisors for this project.


PROJECT C. Developing a stepped care model for insomnia management in primary care. Most patients presenting to primary care with a complaint of insomnia are currently prescribed hypnotic or sedative medication. However best practice clinical evidence shows that behavioural therapies are more effective, longer lasting and have fewer side effects compared with sleep medications. As such this project will aim to develop, implement and test a stepped care insomnia management model in primary care towards reducing sedative medication prescriptions. The project will:

  1. Develop stepped care model for insomnia comprised of simple screening and diagnosis, self-management using online behavioural therapy, a primary care nurse-led brief behavioural intervention, and sleep psychologist CBTi.

  2. Evaluate the best approach to implementing the stepped care model for insomnia in primary care.

  3. Test the effectives of the stepped care model for insomnia in reducing sedative medication prescriptions in primary care 


This PhD project would suit an outstanding and enthusiastic candidate with a psychology background and an interest in sleep health and clinical insomnia research. Prof Leon Lack and Dr Nicole Lovato would be the PhD supervisors for this project.


If you are interested in any of the above research opportunities in sleep health services research and would like to play a part in this directly translatable research initiative, please do not hesitate to reach out via email to the relevant supervisors for any more information about the project and/or to set up a face to face meeting to discuss possible projects further.


Anticipated outputs: PhD Thesis, journal articles, conference presentations and potential for commercially valuable intellectual property.


Other Important Information


Host University: Flinders University


Host Departments: Adelaide Institute for Sleep Health: A Flinders Centre of Research Excellence, College of Medicine and Public Health.


Desired candidate: We are seeking bright and enthusiastic candidates with 1stclass honours completion with an interest in research into sleep health services, clinical sleep disorders, eHealth systems development, sleep psychology, insomnia and sleep apnea. If you are interested in joining the CRE team at the Adelaide Institute for Sleep Healthat Flinders University to undertake PhD project there are PhD scholarships is available for outstanding 1stclass honours candidates.


Period of study: This scholarship is available to eligible candidates to undertake a direct entry into a 3-year PhD program. 


Value and tenure of the scholarship: The full-time stipend rate is $27,082 per annum (in 2018) tax exempt, for up to 3 years (indexed annually).

For further information about potential PhD projects please contact the CRE team at the Adelaide Institute for Sleep Health you can contact:

Dr Andrew Vakulin


P:   7221 8308

Dr Nicole Lovato


P:   7221 8307

Professor Doug McEvoy


P:   7221 8319

Dr Ching Li Chai-Coetzer


P:   7221 8313

Professor Leon Lack


P:   8201 2391

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