Western study to look at how sleep, sleep deprivation affects the brain

The study, led by Adrian Owen, a neuroscientist with Western University's Brain and Mind Institute, is being dubbed the largest of its kind in the world. Bettmann Archive via Getty Images

Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to take part in a new major online sleep-and-cognition study from Western University’s Brain and Mind Institute that will look into the effects sleep, and lack thereof, has on our cognitive function.

The study, launched this week, will see participants log on to a website designed by neuroscientists through Cambridge Brain Sciences where they will track their sleep over a three-day period. During this time, participants will also be evaluating their brain function through scientific brain-game tests.

Afterward, participants will be able to compare how their sleep impacted their performance.

The study, led by Adrian Owen, a neuroscientist with Western University’s Brain and Mind Institute and Chief Scientific Officer at Cambridge Brain Sciences, is being dubbed the largest of its kind in the world.

Story continues below advertisement

“Many of us are working more erratic hours and sleeping less, while the pace of our lives seems to be accelerating,” said Owen in a statement. “We know that this sleep disruption affects us in some ways and that some people feel the impact more than others, but there’s surprisingly little research into exactly how our brains deal with these sleep deficits.”

In particular, Owen said, researchers hope to glean new answers to questions including how sleep and sleep deprivation affect specific regions of the brain, how much sleep is enough, and how brain health is affected by sleep deprivation in the short- and long-term.

“We have the opportunity in this study to learn far more about the brain’s response to sleep than we have ever had before. And what we learn ultimately has the potential to change how millions of people go about their daily lives.”

Information on the Western study and a link to enroll can be found at

The study comes as more and more Canadians report receiving less and less shut-eye.

Last year, a survey conducted by insurance provider Aviva found Canada to be the third most sleep-deprived country behind the U.K. and Ireland. The survey involved 1,000 respondents from 13 countries. Canada tied the U.S. for third, with 31 per cent of respondents saying they didn’t get enough sleep.

Story continues below advertisement

A report released earlier this year by the Rand Corporation found about 20 per cent of Canadians, nearly a quarter of the population, said they slept between six and seven hours a night, while six per cent said they consistently received less than six. At least eight hours of sleep every night, on average, is recommended.

The report estimated that sleep deprivation costs the Canadian economy more than $21 billion every year.

Sleep deprivation has been connected to everything from heart disease, obesity, changes in metabolism, and diabetes. A lack of sleep, or sleep fragmentation, has also been linked to stroke and cognitive decline in older patients, according to a study last year at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Hospital.

— With files from Matthew Trevithick

Sponsored content