Lack of sleep affects decision-making skills

We all know that we do not perform at our best after a bad night’s sleep. We are also well aware that our 24-hour culture is putting more demands on us and affecting how much sleep we get. And now, scientists in Canada have launched what is set to become the world’s largest study of the effects of lack of sleep on the brain.

A team from Western University in Ontario want to get people from around the globe to sign up to a series of online cognitive tests to test reasoning, language comprehension and decision-making. The team will collate the cognitive scores and see the variations depending on how much sleep people have had, and that lack of sleep affects cognitive performance, the BBC reported.

Professor Adrian Owen, the neuroscientist heading the study, said: “We all know what it feels like to not get enough sleep but we know very little about the effects on the brain; we want to see how it affects cognition, memory and your ability to concentrate.”

Everyone’s sleep requirements are different, he said, but if enough people join the study, it may allow scientists to determine the average number of hours needed for optimum brain function. When we are tired, says Prof Owen, there is much less activity in the frontal and parietal lobes – areas that are crucial for decision making, problem solving and memory.

While we all know that it is dangerous to drive when tired, because our reaction times are impaired and we might fall asleep at the wheel, the more subtle effects of sleep deprivation on day-to-day living are far less understood.

Prof Owen added: “It may be that lack of sleep is having very profound effects on decision making and perhaps we should avoid making important decisions like buying a house or deciding whether to get married when we are sleep deprived.”

But the National Council for Hypnotherapy, with around 1,800 qualified therapists across the UK, says one sure way to improve length and quality of sleep is through hypnotherapy and adds that it is well known there are many things which cause disrupted sleep – ranging from late-night TV or screen watching and the wrong diet or drink to anxiety and stress. All of this can cause insomnia and have an effect on daily life.

“Better than medication or diet changes to cure this is hypnotherapy which has a good track record in this regard,” says the NCH, adding that a hypnotherapist can create a programme of personalised treatment that identifies the client’s sleeping patterns and teaches self-management techniques which make a big difference not just to how long they sleep but the quality of sleep they enjoy.

Research shows that hypnosis combined with cognitive behavioural therapy is the most effective treatment for insomnia while further research shows that insomniacs generally respond well to hypnosis.

The BBC report added that a paper in Nature Reviews Neuroscience said there was ‘remarkably little understanding’ of the consequences on the brain of chronic sleep loss and further mentioned a ‘precipitous decline in sleep duration throughout industrialised nations’, adding that more research was urgently needed.

The NCH says that, after sessions with a hypnotherapist, a person may feel more confident; more relaxed in situations that have previously been challenging. The person usually is calmer and shows more clarity of thought – able to make decisions more easily.