I’m a middle aged woman. That means that one of the things I’ve given up is the belief that I will ever again sleep through a night. Between kids, jobs, menopause and daily aches and pains, sleep has become an elusive goal.
But new research has given me hope that I can still have a productive, happy, useful day, in spite of my broken sleep.
The Journal of Experimental Psychology just reported on a study of sleep, and our perception of it. They reported that students at Colorado College participated in a sleep study.
Like most of us, these young folks didn’t feel that they were always getting as much sleep as they needed. Given classes, jobs, studying, social lives, they generally reported feeling somewhat sleep deprived.
But the researchers in this particular study were looking at the value of “placebo sleep”, which means the perception that you’ve actually slept well.
The first step in the study was to have the student participants report on how well they thought they’d slept the night before. Next the researches casually gave them information on how much deep sleep (REM sleep) was necessary for maximum performance. They told the subjects that people need to have at least 20% of their sleep in the deep, REM state. They said that getting less than that tended to lower performance on learning tests. They also told the subjects that people who get more than 25% of their sleep in the REM state did better on those tests.
Next the participants were connected to equipment that they were told would measure their pulse, heartrate, and brainwave frequency. Truthfully, only the brainwaves were being measured. The researchers told the participants that they’d be able to tell how much REM sleep they had gotten.
That wasn’t true, but it was the point of the study.
The cool part of this study was in the results. The subjects were either told that they had had less than 20% REM or over 25%. When the subjects were told that they had gotten over 25% REM sleep, they scored much higher on tests of auditory attention and processing speed. This was true whether or not they had actually slept deeply.
Isn’t that amazing?
As long as you can be convinced that you slept well, you can actually have a productive day where you remember what you hear and understand what’s coming at you.
The next step, of course, is for someone to invent a device that can convince us we’re well rested even when our eyes refuse to be pried open.