• Baylor study examines the impact of inconsistent sleep

    Sleep study illustration

    This scenario may sound familiar: You’re working on a large project for class or work. With the deadline looming, you stay up late night after night to get it finished; after all, you can always make up the missed sleep on a weekend once the project is complete.

    If that’s you, listen up: What seems normal and innocent may actually be hurting you in the long run. So says a new Baylor study, in which researchers found that inconsistent sleep patterns have a negative impact on attention and creativity in young adults, affecting the very mental processes that are most needed for complex projects.

    Dr. Michael Scullin, a Baylor psychology and neuroscience professor and director of Baylor’s Sleep Neuroscience and Cognition Laboratory, and Baylor interior design professor Elise King, BS ’08, teamed up for the study that examined the impact of sleep habits on creativity and “executive attention.”

    The research partnership between Scullin and King brought together two very different disciplines. Interior design students in the study kept diaries about the quality and quantity of their sleep and wore wristbands that measured their sleep patterns. To test the impact of that sleep on their creative and attentive abilities, the students took part in tests before and after the sleep study. The results were clear: The variability in a student’s sleep patterns was negatively associated with creativity and “executive attention,” the sort of intense focus needed for planning, making decisions, correcting errors and dealing with novelty that pops up in the multi-faceted projects students face.

    Now armed with real data on sleep and effectiveness, Robbins College of Health and Human Science professors are already including the results in freshman-level courses in hopes of helping students build healthy habits.

    “I think there is an overall greater awareness of the importance of sleep, and I do believe some students have taken that to heart,” King says. “Change isn’t going to happen overnight; it’s going to take time. But as we start at the beginning with freshmen, we can help them better recognize the link between sleep and the work they do. This study allows us to help them see that.”

    Sic ’em, Michael Scullin, Elise King, and students getting a good night’s sleep!

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