Is lack of sleep affecting your ability to function?

Western University has launched the world's largest sleep-and-cognition study to find out for sure.

"Many of us are working more erratic hours and sleeping less, while the pace of our lives seems to be accelerating," said Western neuroscientist Adrian Owen.

"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 deficit."

Owen has launched www.worldslargestsleepstudy.com, designed by neuroscientists to test how different levels of sleep affect things such as memory, decision making and ability to plan ahead.

"What we'd like to do is to understand how lack of sleep affects brain function," Owen told CBC's London Morning.  

"We all know we shouldn't drive when we've had little sleep, but what about decision making? We want to establish how (sleep) affects daily life."

Owen is the Canada Excellence Research Chair in cognitive neuroscience and imaging at the Brain and Mind Institute at Western, and chief scientific officer at Cambridge Brain Sciences. 

Anyone can log onto the website and do the test. Researchers want participants to commit to tracking their sleep over a three-day period.

Participants can then log on to see how their performance on the tests compares to that of other volunteers, and how much sleep they really need.

Sleep study infographic

(Western University)

"People often think they can survive on less sleep than they really need," Owen said.

Brain researchers are still exploring basic questions about sleep, such as how much sleep is enough, and whether there are long-term effects on brain health from lack of sleep.

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

About 15,000 people have already signed up for the study.