Many researchers are aware of the effect people have in certain scientific experiments. Their ideas and beliefs in particular can make the difference in whether a drug works for them, for example. The ideas, opinions, and beliefs of certain participants are known as producing experimenter bias, sampling bias, and subject bias. Although psychological research does their best to obtain data objectively, there’s no question that the beliefs of those participating in research play a role in whether data is accurate.
It’s the whole notion of the placebo effect. A placebo is a pill, medicine, or procedure that is harmless and has no therapeutic effect whatsoever. Instead, a placebo might be used to measure whether one’s belief in the medication has an effect on his or her health improving.
One study recently explored whether an individual’s belief in getting a good night’s sleep had an effect on his or her cognitive abilities and performance that day. The experiment involved telling participants that there is a new technique – which in actuality does not exist – that could measure a person’s sleep quality the night before.
The participants were connected to a brainwave frequency which printed out lines and waves on paper. Researchers used that material to inform participants that their deep sleep, their REM sleep was above average the night before and they are mentally and physically alert.
The study was conducted at Colorado College, revealing an unusual but effective solution to insomnia. The study essentially manipulated people’s perception of how well they slept and it’s affecting their cognitive functioning. It’s being called the placebo sleep method. Interestingly, manipulating participants’ perceptions of their sleep quality influenced their cognitive functioning, regardless of how well they reported sleeping the night before. The study also provided evidence for an individual’s perception of sleep and how that affected his or her performance the next day. Those who believed they had slept poorly scored 44% on a written exam. Those who believed they slept well scored 70% correct. These numbers further confirm that if an individual is convinced that he or she slept well, cognitive abilities will likely not suffer the next day.
Insomnia is known to have significant effects on one’s ability. Fatigue can lead to an inability to concentrate or perform well at work. An individual may not be able to do well his or her memory, focus, efficiency, or effectiveness. Typically, insomnia is either the result of something simple, like drinking too much caffeine during the day or too many responsibilities. Or it’s a symptom of a larger problem. It could be a sign or an indication of a medical disorder or a psychological illness, such as depression or anxiety. Common symptoms of insomnia include:
- Exhausting sleep
- Difficulty falling asleep despite being tired
- Waking up frequently during the night
- Trouble getting back to sleep when awakened
- Difficulty concentrating during the day
- Daytime drowsiness, fatigue, or irritability
- Waking up too early in the morning
As mentioned, what’s challenging about insomnia is that lack of sleep can cause impairments later in the day. Yet, the Colorado research indicates that changing one’s belief about how he or she slept can influence one’s performance. Researchers also recognize that there are a lot of factors that go into the experience of insomnia. Although the placebo sleep method might work for some; the serious consequences associated with sleep deprivation remain to be further investigated.
Significant questions on this topic clearly remain. Yet, the results of the study have been well received by the field of sleep and psychology. Furthermore, the results of the study add to the growing body of research on the power of expectations and beliefs with regard to physiological and mental functioning.