Assessing Sleep Patterns in Interior Design Students: A Pilot Study

Presented by: Elise King, Dr. Michael Scullin

This study stemmed from concerns arising from anecdotal reports of dysfunctional sleeping patterns of undergraduate interior design students. Quality sleep is connected with health, well-being, and learning—factors critical to a students’ success, but studies have shown that students often engage in irregular sleep patterns. For students in studio or project-based majors, such as interior design, there is a propensity for extended periods of disrupted sleep. Previous sleep research has investigated the negative health and educational outcomes of single-night “cramming,” but this study examined the potentially more severe situation of consecutive nights of disrupted sleep. Purpose Experimental and correlational research has clearly indicated that sleep is a necessary component of a healthy lifestyle and that lack of sleep can affect health, wellness, learning, and productivity (for reviews, see Curcio, Ferrara, & Gennaro, 2006; Rasch & Born, 2013). But little empirical research to date has addressed sleep in studio environments, and no known research has addressed interior design studios. The rationale for conducting this study was to gain a better understanding of the sleep habits of interior design students in the seven days leading up to a project deadline, using both objective and subjective measurements. Participants The participants for this study were six undergraduate students majoring in interior design at the same university. All participants were enrolled in the same studio course and were completing the same project during the study. The six participants were females between the ages of twenty-one and twenty-two years old and identified as Caucasian. Data Collection Data was collected using objective and subjective measures (discussed below) over a period of seven days leading up to a project due date. Though optional, all six participants also provided the investigators with their major and overall GPAs and allowed the investigators to access the grade on the project that they turned-in during the study. Objective Assessments For its objective measure this study used actigraphy (Philips Respironics Actiwatch 2), a tool regularly used in sleep studies (e.g., Dang-Vu et al., 2008). Actiwatches use accelerometer technology to track motor activity and can be worn on the wrist for 24 hours/day with a battery life lasting over a week. Actiwatches also detect the amount and duration of ambient white light illuminance so as to measure light-on/light-off periods; this provides information about when one is trying to fall asleep. The combination of motor and light measures allows actigraphy to reliably distinguish sleep versus wake states (Kanady, Drummond, & Mednick, 2011; Kripke et al., 2010). Subjective Assessments In addition to wearing actiwatches, participants completed two questionnaires (first when picking up the actiwatch and again when returning it) as well daily dairies, in which they were asked to self-report on study habits, exercise, stress levels, sleep quality, mood, and nutrition. The purpose of the subjective measurements were two-fold. First, they provided insight into how well participants were able to predict the amount they would sleep and how accurately they estimated the amount they slept after the fact. Secondly, daily diaries offered insight into the correlation between sleep patterns and mood, stress, and health. Outcomes Pilot study results indicated both inter-individual and intra-individual variability in sleep patterns during their final project week. On some nights, some participants misestimated their total sleep time by over an hour. Furthermore, sleep quality was associated with better health and educational outcomes. For example, the results suggested that greater sleep was associated with higher grades on the final project, better mood, and better emotional regulation. Thus, higher grades need not always come at the cost of less sleep.


  • Curcio, G., Ferrara, M., & Gennaro, L. D. (2006). Sleep loss, learning capacity and academic performance. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 10, 323-337.
  • Dang-Vu, T. T., Schabus, M., Desseilles, M., Albouy, G., Boly, M., Darsaud, A., Gais, S., et al. (2008). Spontaneous neural activity during human slow wave sleep. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA, 105, 15160-15165.
  • Kanady, J. C., Drummond, S., & Mednick, S. C. (2011). Actigraphic assessment of a polysomnographic-recorded nap: a validation study. Journal of Sleep Research, 20, 214-222.
  • Kripke, D. F., Hahn, E. K., Grizas, A. P., Wadiak, K. H., Loving, R. T., Poceta, J. S., ... & Kline, L. E. (2010). Wrist actigraphic scoring for sleep laboratory patients: algorithm development. Journal of Sleep Research, 19, 612-619.
  • Rasch, B., & Born, J. (2013). About sleep's role in memory. Physiological Reviews, 93, 681- 766.
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