Skimping on sleep, followed by “catch-up” days with long snoozes, is tied to worse cognition — both in attention and creativity — in young adults, in particular those tackling major projects, Baylor University researchers have found.
“The more variability they showed in their night-to-night sleep, the worse their cognition declined across the week,” said study co-author Michael Scullin, Ph.D., director of Baylor’s Sleep Neuroscience and Cognition Laboratory and assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience in Baylor’s College of Arts & Sciences.
“When completing term projects, students restrict sleep, then rebound on sleep, then repeat,” he said. “Major projects which call for numerous tasks and deadlines — more so than for tests — seem to contribute to sleep variability.”
The study of interior design students is published online in the Journal of Interior Design. It also has implications for art, architecture, graphic design and other disciplines that use a model of design studio-based instruction, researchers said.
Interior design is “a strange culture, one where sleep deprivation is almost a badge of honor,” said lead author Elise King, assistant professor of interior design in Baylor’s Robbins College of Health and Human Sciences.
Staying up late to work on a project is not seen as procrastination but considered by some students and faculty members to be a tradition and a normal part of studio-based curricula to prepare them for their careers, she said.
“Since the general public still doesn’t understand the profession of interior design, and mistakenly thinks we’re the same as decorators, there is a sense that you want to work harder and prove them wrong,” King said. “But recently, we’ve seen the consequences of that type of thinking: anxiety, depression and other mental health issues — and also the dangers of driving while sleep deprived.”
The study challenges a common myth — that “the best design ideas only come in the middle of the night,” King said. But researchers found the opposite — that “consistent habits are at least as important as total length of sleep,” Scullin said.
Irregular sleep is a negative for “executive attention” — intense focus for planning, making decisions, correcting errors and dealing with novelty. Erratic sleep also has a negative effect on creativity, the study found.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends that young adults have seven to nine hours of sleep each day. But for the 28 interior design students in the Baylor study, sleep was short and fragmented. Only one participant slept seven hours or more nightly; 79 percent slept fewer than seven hours at least three nights during the week.
“Most students think they’re getting about four more hours of sleep each week than they actually are,” Scullin said.
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