"Placebo sleep" can boost your mental performance

Posted on February 4, 2014

Believing that you've had a good night's sleep can influence your mental performance, regardless of how much sleep you actually had. That's according to a new paper, by Christina Draganich and Kristi Erdal, who tricked students into thinking there's a medical technique that can establish objectively how well you slept the previous night.

Fifty students first said how well they'd slept. Next, they were wired up to measures of their brain waves, pulse and heart-rate, and half of them were told the fiction that in fact they'd had just 16.2 per cent REM sleep the previous night (below average sleep quality); the other half were told they'd had an above average night of sleep, with 28.7 per cent REM sleep. Confronted with a difficult mental arithmetic task, the students told they'd had a good night's sleep then outperformed those who were told they'd had a poor night's sleep. In contrast, their initial subjective sense of their previous night's sleep quality was not related to their performance.

It might be tempting to take from this first result the idea that we can boost our mental performance if we convince ourselves we slept well last night. However, bear in mind that the students told they'd had a good night's sleep scored 34.81 on average on the arithmetic test, whereas the average score on this test for an adult is 36. It's a shame there wasn't a baseline control condition to see how students would have performed without receiving any information about their sleep quality.

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Category(s):Sleep Disorders

Source material from British Psychological Society