Category: Sleep and dreaming

Episode 11: How to Get a Good Night’s Sleep

GettyImages-506725379.jpgThis is Episode 11 of PsychCrunch the podcast from the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest, sponsored by Routledge Psychology. Download here.

 
Can psychology help us get a better night’s sleep? Our presenter Ginny Smith hears how worry about sleep is sometimes more of a problem than lack of sleep itself. She gives us some evidence-backed sleep tips and finds out about “sleep engineering” – deliberately manipulating the sleep process to aid memory and enhance its health benefits.

Our guests are Professor Kenneth Lichstein at the University of Alabama and Professor Penny Lewis at the University of Cardiff.

Background reading for this episode:

Also, find many more studies on sleep and dreaming in our archive.

Episode credits: Presented and produced by Ginny Smith. Mixing Jeff Knowler. PsychCrunch theme music Catherine Loveday and Jeff Knowler. Art work Tim Grimshaw.

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Past episodes:

Episode one: Dating and Attraction.
Episode two: Breaking Bad Habits.
Episode three: How to Win an Argument.
Episode four: The Psychology of Gift Giving.
Episode five: How To Learn a New Language.
Episode six: How To Be Sarcastic 😉
Episode seven: Use Psychology To Compete Like an Olympian.
Episode eight: Can We Trust Psychological Studies?
Episode nine: How To Get The Best From Your Team
Episode ten: How To Stop Procrastinating

PsychCrunch is sponsored by Routledge Psychology.

PsychCrunch Banner April 16

Routledge interviewed PsychCrunch presenter Christian Jarrett about the aims of the podcast and engaging with the public about psychology research.

Researchers say this 5-minute technique could help you fall asleep more quickly

By Christian Jarrett

You’ve had all day to worry, but your brain decides that the moment you rest your weary head upon your pillow is the precise instant it wants to start fretting. The result of course is that you feel wide awake and cannot sleep. Two possible solutions: (1) spend five minutes before lights out writing about everything you have done. This might give you a soothing sense of achievement. Or (2) spend five minutes writing a comprehensive to-do list. This could serve to off-load your worries, or perhaps it will only make them more salient? To find out which is the better strategy, a team led by Michael Scullin at Baylor University, invited 57 volunteers to their sleep lab and had half of them try technique 1 and half try technique 2. Their findings are published in the latest issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.

Continue reading “Researchers say this 5-minute technique could help you fall asleep more quickly”

“Insomnia identity” – misbelieving you’ve got sleep problems can be more harmful than actual lack of sleep

GettyImages-515411012.jpgBy Alex Fradera

“In the dark, in the quiet, in the lonely stillness, the aggrieved struggle to rescue sleep from vigilance.” This arresting sentence introduces a new review of insomnia in Behaviour Research and Therapy that addresses a troubling fact observed in sleep labs across the world: poor sleep is not sufficient to make people consider themselves to have the condition… and poor sleep may not even be necessary. The paper, by Kenneth Lichstein at the University of Alabama, explores the implications of “Insomnia Identity”: how it contributes to health problems, and may be an obstacle to recovery.

Continue reading ““Insomnia identity” – misbelieving you’ve got sleep problems can be more harmful than actual lack of sleep”

How keeping a dream diary could boost your creativity

GettyImages-507003661.jpgBy Alex Fradera

For me, dreams and creativity have always been wound tightly together. As a teenager leafing through my dad’s Heavy Metal comic strip anthologies, it was Little Nemo in Slumberland (about a character who has fantastic dreams) that stunned me the most. When I became a psychology researcher, I was fascinated with altered states and formed a short-lived dream research group with my fellow PhD students – somnambulant life seemed so mysterious, and the then-received wisdom that dreams were just brain static was becoming untenable. Today, outside of my science hours, I perform improvisational theatre, most intensively with The Dreaming, a surrealistic troupe mimicking dream-logic. And in recent years, I’ve made my sporadic dream-logging into a habit (tip: keep a voice recorder by your bed and capture everything you can without worrying about sense or structure). Could this habit make me more creative? According to new research published in the Journal of Creative Behavior, it could.

Continue reading “How keeping a dream diary could boost your creativity”

It’s not just lack of sleep: why pupils with an “owl” chronotype get lower grades

GettyImages-84464371.jpg
Pupils with an “owl” chronotype may be at particular disadvantage for science and maths

By guest blogger Helge Hasselmann

Cognitive performance fluctuates throughout the day. Depending on their “chronotype” some people are sharpest in the morning (“larks”), while others generally prefer the later hours of the day (“owls”). For obvious reasons, this is mirrored in our preferred sleep routines: larks get tired in the evenings earlier and, as a consequence, also wake up earlier, while owls show the opposite pattern. Your chronotype is not something that you’re stuck with for the rest of your life, but it changes with age. In fact we’re most likely to show an owl-like chronotype during adolescence, which might at least partly explain why teenagers often stay up late and arrive at school with eyes bloodshot thanks to a hefty sleep debt.

But if late chronotypes are so common in adolescents, why does school start so early (usually well before 9am in the UK, Netherlands and Germany)? Doesn’t that mean that many students are likely to be constantly sleep-deprived and not assessed during their biological peaks? Yes, it does! In fact, there is a lot of evidence to suggest that school kids who have a late chronotype score lower grades. But besides reduced sleep time, there are several alternative explanations for why a late chronotype could be associated with lower academic performance (such as absenteeism, for instance) as explored in a new paper in Scientific Reports. The researchers, led by Giulia Zerbini at University of Groningen, say their findings might help us understand the chronotype/school grade link and how we can fix it.

Continue reading “It’s not just lack of sleep: why pupils with an “owl” chronotype get lower grades”

For faster learning and longer retention, interleave study sessions with sleep

Teenage schoolgirl sleeping on deskBy Christian Jarrett

Some basic rules of effective learning, informed by psychology, are already well established. Testing yourself and relearning any forgotten items is beneficial,  especially so when this is done after a sufficient delay, rather than “cramming”. Sleep too is known to be incredibly helpful for consolidating new memories. Now a study  in Psychological Science has built upon these insights, showing how interleaving two study periods with sleep leads to particularly efficient and long-lasting learning.  Continue reading “For faster learning and longer retention, interleave study sessions with sleep”

Studying “fast chess” to see how decision making varies through the day

38477719_ce9d3dc8a3_bBy Christian Jarrett

We’ve all had the experience of trying to make a tricky decision through the fog of fatigue, but there’s surprisingly little objective evidence about how time of day affects the way we decide. Perhaps late-day tiredness makes us more rash, as we lack the energy to be considered. Alternatively, maybe it’s our mid-morning zest that could lead us to be impetuous. Of course, our own chronotype is also likely come into play – perhaps morning people – “larks” – make better decisions in the morning, whereas evening people – “owls” – make better decisions in the evening.

One place to look for answers is in the data trails left by our online behavior. For a new paper in Cognition, a team led by María Leone has analysed the moves made by dozens of internet “fast chess” players, some of whom have played tens of thousands of two or three-minute games, consisting of an even greater number of moves. The results suggest that regardless of chronotype, we’re inclined to make progressively faster, less accurate decisions as the day wears on, with the effect plateauing in mid-afternoon.  Continue reading “Studying “fast chess” to see how decision making varies through the day”

When you’re sleeping, how much does your brain pay attention to the outside world?

Brain Sleep

By guest blogger Daniel Bor

When I was 13, I once dreamt that a beautiful woman was sensuously stroking the palm of my hand, as a family of fridges hummed in the background. In reality, a huge, buzzing wasp had landed on my right hand. It idly walked around for a bit, then stung me. After the shock had worn off, I was puzzled why my dreaming brain had stopped me from waking up to this potential danger. Contrast this with 6 years ago, when even my deepest sleep would be broken by the first sounds of my newborn baby daughter’s cries. How do our brains decide whether or not to wake us up, based on what’s going on in the world? And why does this policy change depending on whether we’re dreaming or in some other sleep state?

In a recent paper in the Journal of Neuroscience, Thomas Andrillon and his colleagues have discovered intriguing clues that start to answer these questions. Continue reading “When you’re sleeping, how much does your brain pay attention to the outside world?”

Puncturing the myth of the tireless leader – if you’re sleep deprived you’re unlikely to inspire anyone

Sleep deprivation makes it harder for us to inspire others, or to be inspired

There’s an archetype of the tireless leader who scorns slumber in favour of getting things done – Margaret Thatcher, Winston Churchill, Benjamin Franklin, to name a few. But if you think you’re going to inspire anybody by routinely working through the night, you might want to think again. Research published recently in the Journal of Applied Psychology shows that sleep deprivation has the specific effect of making it harder for us to charismatically inspire others. And in a double whammy, the research suggests that followers who are sleep deprived are likely to find it particularly difficult to be inspired by their leaders.

Christopher Barnes and his colleagues asked 88 business students to prepare a commencement speech (a talk meant to inspire students at their graduating ceremony), and then to deliver it in front of a video camera. Half of the participants made the speech in a state of sleep deprivation (the previous night they’d had to complete a survey every hour between 10pm and 5am), the others were fully rested.

Afterwards the students answered questions about their own performance, including their ability to engage in “deep acting” – regulating their emotions by reaching inward and trying to genuinely experience these emotions. Also, a team of judges watched the videos of the speeches and rated the students’ performances for charisma. The judges didn’t know who the students were, nor whether they were in the sleep deprived condition or not, but nonetheless they consistently rated the tired orators as less charismatic.

This result was just as Barnes and his team predicted because previous research has shown that sleep deprivation makes it harder to control our emotional displays, and that one component of charismatic behaviour is being able to embody gravity, enthusiasm, or righteousness as the situation demands. Bearing this out, sleep-deprived participants considered themselves less able during the speech to engage in deep acting. And the worse they felt they were at deep acting, the less charismatic the speech.

A second experiment turned the tables to see how observers deal with charismatic content when they are tired. The researchers cherry picked some of the more charismatic or uninspiring videos from the first experiment, and then asked 109 student participants to watch them back and rate each for their charismatic effect. Half of these participants were sleep deprived and they felt less charismatically impressed by what they heard. As this can’t be related to their own deep acting skills, what was going on? Again, the answer is emotion: the tired participants felt less positive, and this lower mood explained the degree to which sleep deprivation affected their ratings. This is because in searching for an external explanation for our feelings, we are liable to misjudge the source – in this case the students blamed their feeling flat from tiredness on the fact the orators weren’t that charismatic.

The tireless leader trope may not come out of nowhere: there is evidence for a gene that provides resistance to sleep deprivation, and the will to persevere during certain crises may temporarily outweigh the costs. But the costs – summarised here – can be substantial, including attention deficits, poorer decision making and risk evaluation, and memory lapses. Now we can add charismatic influence to that list. Moreover, role-modelling long hours risks propagating these habits to the rest of the organisation – so even leaders who have the rare ability to shake off their own tiredness will be presiding over cognitively impaired, irritable followers in no mood for their pronouncements. Forty winks are a wise investment indeed.

_________________________________ ResearchBlogging.org

Barnes, C., Guarana, C., Nauman, S., & Kong, D. (2016). Too Tired to Inspire or Be Inspired: Sleep Deprivation and Charismatic Leadership. Journal of Applied Psychology DOI: 10.1037/apl0000123

–further reading–
Students: it’s time to ditch the pre-exam all-nighter
An afternoon nap tunes out negative emotions, tunes in positive ones

Post written by Alex Fradera (@alexfradera) for the BPS Research Digest.

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Smartphone study reveals the world’s sleeping habits

Middle aged men get the least sleep, the research found

Researchers in the USA have used a smartphone app to see how people’s sleep habits vary around the world. More specifically they’ve investigated how much the timing of sunrise and sunset affect people’s sleep times or if social and cultural factors are more important. “Quantifying these social effects is the next frontier in sleep research,” they write in the paper in Science Advances.

The study involved the ENTRAIN smartphone app which helps people recover from jet lag by recommending ideal levels of light exposure based on a user’s typical sleep routine. Users have the option to make their information available for research. Olivia Walch and her colleagues at the University of Michigan began collecting data from the app in 2014 and the new analysis is based on information sent in by 8070 users around the world during the first year.

Overall the data showed that a later sunrise goes hand in hand with later waking-up times, and that a later sunset is associated with people going to bed later, just as predicted based on how light affects the suprachiasmatic nucleus – the bundle of neurons behind the eyes that controls our sleep cycle, also known as the circadian rhythm. But crucially, the link between sunset and bedtime was weaker than biological explanations would predict.

Put differently, the time we get up is strongly influenced by the timing of sunrise, but the time we go to bed is not as strongly influenced by sunset, suggesting other social and cultural factors are involved. Consistent with this account, most of the cross-cultural differences in sleep – for example, the Dutch reported the most sleep and Singaporeans the least – were explained by later bed times in the countries getting less sleep.

The difference between the countries with the most and least sleep wasn’t huge: just under 7.5 hours for Singapore and just over 8.1 hours for The Netherlands. But the researchers emphasised that even a 30-minutes difference is meaningful, especially when you consider that sleep debt can have a cumulative effect over time.

Users of the app from the UK averaged about 8 hours sleep (a healthy amount) with average wake time just after 7 am and average bed time just before 11.15.

The researchers were also able to use the smartphone data to compare sleep habits by age, gender, and time spent exposed to natural light. Age was the most important factor with older people tending to go to sleep earlier. There was also much less variability in the sleep times of older users, which could because of biological mechanisms that narrow the window of opportunity for when it’s easy for older people to fall asleep.

This age-related finding could have everyday relevance – “being careful about how much light affects your circadian clock could be more and more important to sleep as you get older,” the researchers said. If your body’s only willing to sleep between fairly limited hours, you’re best off listening to it and switching off that TV.

Meanwhile, women were found to get more sleep than men – 30 minutes more, on average – thanks both to going to bed earlier and waking up later. The gender difference was greatest in mid-life so that middle-age men are the demographic group getting the least sleep, on average.

In terms of exposure to outdoor, natural light, app users who had more of this tended to report going to sleep earlier and sleeping more, which is as you’d expect based on the effect of daylight hours on the brain’s circadian clock.

The researchers concluded that their results “point to the suppression of circadian signaling at bedtime as an important target for clinical sleep intervention; and suggest that age-related differences in the window during which sleep can occur are evidenced on a global scale”. Aside from these specific insights into sleep, the group also said their findings show the power of modern smartphone technologies as a research tool. “”This is a cool triumph of citizen science,” said co-author Daniel Forger in a press release.

A global quantification of “normal” sleep schedules using smarphone data

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Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

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