Vanderbilt nursing professor wins NIH funding to study sleep’s role in cognitive impairment

VUSN topper

Makayla Cordoza, assistant professor of nursing, has won a multi-year grant of over $730,000 from the National Institute of Nursing Research. She will research how poor and disturbed sleep contributes to ICU delirium.

Makayla Cordoza (Submitted)

More than one third of patients in the intensive care unit develop ICU delirium, an acute form of cognitive dysfunction that disproportionately increases the risk for worse outcomes and long-term cognitive impairment. Insufficient and disrupted sleep is also a known contributor to short and long-term neurocognitive deficits. Despite this, the sleep-delirium relationship has not been rigorously investigated, Cordoza wrote in the project abstract.

Cordoza’s project will assess cognition and sleep among patients who are scheduled to have cardiothoracic surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center: before they are hospitalized, in the ICU post-operatively and during the rest of their hospitalization. Findings from this study will be used to help develop sleep-promoting tactics to lessen the risk of ICU delirium.

“Being hospitalized can dramatically alter the life course of individuals, especially if they are critically ill and develop delirium. Many critical illness survivors remain debilitated long term, are unable to return to work and are at high risk for developing lasting neurocognitive impairment like dementia,” Cordoza said. “We know that sleep loss is robustly linked with numerous negative health conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, however sleep’s potential role in the development of acute cognitive impairment in hospital settings has not been rigorously investigated.”

Cordoza joined Vanderbilt in August 2023. With experience as a critical care nurse and nursing practice specialist and research training in sleep and circadian neurobiology, Cordoza investigates the role of sleep in the development of neurocognitive impairment in adults who have acute and chronic illness that requires hospitalization. Cordoza’s research goal is to develop strategies that improve sleep patterns to protect neurocognitive function—in the hospital and during recovery after hospitalization.

“This NIH award represents an important step to better understand the potential role of sleep in the development of ICU delirium,” Cordoza said. “Findings from this study will inform a planned multi-modal intervention aimed at improving sleep as a strategy to mitigate delirium risk.”

The National Institute of Nursing Research is one of 27 institutes at the National Institutes of Health. It leads nursing research to solve pressing health challenges and inform practice and policy to improve health equity.

This program is supported by the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Nursing Research under grant number 4R00NR019862-03 as part of an award totaling $747,000 with 0 percent financed with non-governmental sources. The contents are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by the National Institutes of Health or the U.S. Government. For more information, please visit