SPOKANE, Wash. – The National Institutes of Health (NIH) have awarded researchers at Washington State University more than $1.1 million in grant funding over a three-year period to study the effects of sleep deprivation on decision-making.
Through a series of experiments that will start this summer, the researchers will look at what goes wrong with cognitive functioning when a person is sleep deprived.
To pinpoint the exact processes implicated in decision-making error, they will examine separately the different components of cognition, including information intake, information processing in working memory, and decision execution. This will be achieved through specially designed decision-making tasks administered to study participants before, during and after a period of 62 hours of sleep deprivation.
“This research is relevant for individuals with medical conditions, many of whom face sleep problems,” said Gregory Belenky, director of the WSU Sleep and Performance Research Center (SPRC) and co-investigator on the grant. ”Sleepy patients are more likely to make health care decisions that are not in their best interest, and the experiments will reveal what goes wrong in the brain when that happens.”
The study also will have implications for decision-making performance in a variety of safety-critical settings, such as transportation and law enforcement.
The funding stems from a collaboration spanning two WSU campuses, involving research professors Hans Van Dongen and Belenky of the SPRC in Spokane and professors Paul Whitney and John Hinson of the Department of Psychology in the College of Liberal Arts in Pullman.

Principal investigator on the grant is postdoctoral research fellow Melinda Jackson, also with the SPRC.

“This grant award exemplifies the supportive research environment at Washington State University,” said WSU provost Warwick Bayly. “Few other institutions have senior scientists who give a junior researcher the opportunity to bring in a project of this caliber.”

The study builds on NIH-funded work on the cognitive effects of sleep deprivation, brought to WSU by Van Dongen in 2005, which was also the basis for a recent collaborative study by Van Dongen, Belenky, Whitney and Hinson on the effects of sleep deprivation on executive functioning.
“Obtaining NIH funding is considered very prestigious among researchers seeking fundamental knowledge relevant to health and disease,” said Bryan Slinker, vice provost for health sciences. “With this grant, WSU faculty step up their contributions to a thriving research environment and a solid basis for expanding medical education in Spokane.”
Related Web sites:

Feb. 10, 2010 news release on sleep and executive functioning study: http://www.wsunews.wsu.edu/pages/publications.asp?Action=Detail&PublicationID=18194&PageID=
WSU Spokane: www.spokane.wsu.edu
WSU Sleep and Performance Research Center: http://www.wsu.edu/sprc
WSU Office of Research: www.research.wsu.edu