Many of us thought our minds completely shut down during sleep; incapable of processing information and making informed decisions. Recent studies have proven otherwise.
A study published in Current Biology, showed that complex stimuli can not only be processed while we sleep but that this information can also be used to make decisions; similar to being awake. When we’re asleep, the brain regions critical for paying attention or implementing instructions are shut down, which makes it impossible to start performing a task. The study, instead, tested for a continuance of decision making in the brain after sleep onset; by providing participants with an automatized task just before falling asleep.
Participants in the study were asked to categorize words in two specific groups by pressing a left or right button. One category had “real words” such as hammer, cat, hat etc. The other category contained pseudo-words. A pseudo-word is one that could exist in a language in that all of its sounds and combinations are permitted, but it has no meaning whatsoever such as fabu, and piggle. Once the task of identifying the word and categorizing it became almost automatic, participants were asked to continue to respond to the words, but were permitted to fall asleep. Participants were being hosted in a dark room in a laying down position, which ushered most participants to close their eyes and fall asleep.
EEG electrodes were placed on participant’s heads to monitor their state of vigilance. Once they were asleep, participants were given new words from the same categories. While asleep, participants stopped pressing buttons, BUT their brains were still responding to the words. Researchers looked at the activity in the motor areas of the brain, as it is possible to see whether someone is preparing a response and toward which side. Applying this method to the sleeping participants showed that even during sleep, participants’ brains continued to routinely prepare for right and left responses.
As the participants awoke and the experiment came to an end the participants who fell asleep had no memory of the words they heard during their sleep. Participants confidently recalled the words they heard while they were awake. So not only did the test subjects process complex information while being completely asleep, but they did it unconsciously, with no memory of the decision making occurring.
As studies continue to come out on the impact of sleep and the brain, it is easy to see we still have much to learn. We know that good sleep has great mental, physical and emotional benefits and bad sleep has the exact opposite, but the effects of good and bad sleep on the brain is still being studied and researched. We are excited to see the advancements in sleep research and are happy to bestow this information onto our friends, customers, followers and other sleep enthusiasts.