A question of great interest in current sleep research is whether and how sleep might facilitate complex cognitive skills such as decision-making. The Iowa Gambling Task (IGT) was used to investigate effects of sleep on affect-guided decision-making. After a brief standardized preview of the IGT that was insufficient to learn its underlying rule, participants underwent a 12-h delay containing either a normal night's sleep (Sleep group; N = 28) or continuous daytime wake (Wake group; N = 26). Following the delay, both groups performed the full IGT. To control for circadian effects, two additional groups performed both the preview and the full task either in the morning (N = 17) or the evening (N = 21). In the IGT, four decks of cards were presented. Draws from two 'advantageous decks' yielded low play-money rewards, occasional low losses and, over multiple draws, a net gain. Draws from 'disadvantageous' decks yielded high rewards, occasional high losses and, over multiple draws, a net loss. Participants were instructed to win and avoid losing as much as possible, and better performance was defined as more advantageous draws. Relative to the wake group, the sleep group showed both superior behavioral outcome (more advantageous draws) and superior rule understanding (blindly judged from statements written at task completion). Neither measure differentiated the two control groups. These results illustrate a role of sleep in optimizing decision-making, a benefit that may be brought about by changes in underlying emotional or cognitive processes.
© 2011 European Sleep Research Society.