World’s Largest Sleep Study: What We’ve Learnt

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A recent study touted to be the world’s largest on sleep, has just announced their preliminary results. Neuroscientists from Western Institute’s Brain and Mind Institute carried out the study beginning June 2017. Within days of launching the online scientific investigation, more than 40,000 people globally participated in the in-depth questionnaire and a series of cognitive performance activities.

Adrian Owen, Western Institute’s renowned researcher in Cognitive Neuroscience and Imaging said, “We really wanted to capture the sleeping habits of people around the entire globe. Obviously, there have been many smaller sleep studies of people in laboratories but we wanted to find out what sleep is like in the real world. People who logged in gave us a lot of information about themselves. We had a fairly extensive questionnaire and they told us things like which medications they were on, how old they were, where they were in the world and what kind of education they’d received because these are all factors that might have contributed to some of the results.”

People who slept between 7-8 hours perform better cognitively

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It’s the truth, folks. About half of the total participants claimed they sleep less than 6.3 hours per night, which is approximately an hour less than the amount recommended by the study. As for those who slept four hours or less, the study saw them performing as if they were almost nine years older.

Sleep affects all adults equally

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We all probably know of (or are) somebody who claims that they are unaffected by the amount of sleep they get. But this study has now revealed that sleep affects all adults equally. They found that the sleep duration associated with highly functional cognitive behaviour was the same for everyone – seven to eight hours – regardless of age. Furthermore, the negative results from getting too little or too much sleep were also the same across the age board.

Conor Wild, Owen Lab Research Associate (and the study’s lead author) said, “We found that the optimum amount of sleep to keep your brain performing its best is 7 to 8 hours every night and that corresponds to what the doctors will tell you need to keep your body in tip-top shape, as well. We also found that people that slept more than that amount were equally impaired as those who slept too little.”

Sleep affects reasoning and verbal abilities, but not short-term memory

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This study also discovered that reasoning and verbal abilities were the two actions most strongly affected by sleep. On the other hand, short-term memory performance was relatively unaffected. Interestingly, these results differ from previous findings of most scientific studies that investigated complete sleep deprivation. Comparing both studies, the concluding suggestion is that not getting sufficient sleep for an extended period affects the brain differently than staying up all night would.

A single night’s sleep can make a difference

Image credit: Claudia Mañas

The world’s largest sleep study also found evidence that suggests even a single night’s sleep can affect a person’s ability to think. Results showed that participants who slept more than usual the night before participating in the study performed better than those who slept their usual amount or less. The advice to “Go to bed earlier before a big day,” does have scientific roots after all.

Read more about the results from the world’s largest sleep study here.

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