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Advice for teachers -

​Unit 4 - Area of Study 1: How do levels of consciousness affect mental processes and behaviour?

Outcome 1​

Explain consciousness as a continuum, compare theories about the purpose and nature of sleep, and elaborate on the effects of sleep disruption on a person’s functioning.

Examples of learning activities

  • create a poster that compares normal waking consciousness with altered states of consciousness with respect to the dimensions specified in the study design
  • use a ‘compare and contrast’ graphic organiser to discuss the concepts of normal waking consciousness and altered states of consciousness
  • discuss the strengths and limitations of techniques such as the use of sleep diaries and video monitoring in determining levels of consciousness
  • role-play in groups normal waking consciousness and altered states of consciousness, emphasising levels of awareness, controlled and automatic processes, content limitations, perceptual and cognitive distortion, emotional awareness, self-control and time-orientation
  • visit a sleep laboratory or go online to learn about how an electro-oculargraph (EOG), an electromyograph (EMG) and an electroencephalograph (EEG) are used to identify states of consciousness​​
  • download ‘Lesson 2: Houston, We Have a Problem’ to explore the concepts of sleep, sleep disorders and biological rhythms
  • divide an A3 sheet into three sections headed EEG, EOG, EMG; use the Internet to find examples of recordings of each of these and annotate each recording on your poster table to show how each may be interpreted in relation to different states of consciousness (normal waking consciousness, naturally occurring altered state of consciousness, induced altered state of consciousness)
  • suggest research designs that could be used to investigate the effects of stimulants and depressants on altered states of consciousness; consider single-blind and double-blind procedures, repeated measures, independent groups and matched pairs designs as well as the ethical principles when undertaking the research
  • visit the BBC Sleep page and undertake the ‘Daily rhythm test' to show your natural sleeping and waking pattern over a 24-hour period
  • produce a poster that shows the relationship between circadian and ultradian rhythms
  • Example icon for advice for teachers
    conduct an investigation into the sleep pattern​s across the lifespan​​
  • ​compare a typical sleep hypnogram for an infant, a child, an adolescent, an adult and an elderly person; annotate features that are similar and features that are different across each age group
  • review the booklet ‘Sleep-Wake Cycle: Its Physiology and Impact on Health’ in terms of the key messages presented to readers; prepare a single-page summary of key messages or a one-page infographic on an aspect of the sleep-wake cycle
  • devise a questionnaire for students to research friends and family members regarding their sleep patterns; report back to the class and discuss amount of sleep required, the need for sleep and any observed changes to typical circadian rhythm for sleep
  • complete a tri-Venn diagram showing how a person’s affective (emotional responses), behavioural and cognitive functioning can be affected by partial sleep deprivation
  • undertake the Epworth sleepiness scale ; ask students to consider their results in relation to the quantity and/or quality of their sleep and suggest improvements where appropriate; follow up survey at a later date if appropriate; discuss use of self-reports in relation to research and evaluate the effectiveness of such methods in collecting data, including sources of bias
  • investigate experimentally how the length of time spent awake affects the efficiency of the central nervous system
  • design, test and evaluate a device to signal that someone has fallen asleep
  • investigate the effects of partial sleep deprivation on cognitive tasks by undertaking a test such as the Face Memory Test by BBC Science​ 
  • collect rosters of various organisations that involve shift-work; analyse in terms of sleep-wake cycle shifts and their effectiveness in minimising the development of circadian phase disorders
  • interview a shift worker to identify coping mechanisms and strategies
  • conduct a class debate on the topic ‘Travelling west is best’ in relation to minimising the effects of jetlag
  • design and test a regime to improve your sleep health
  • outline the ethical principles and safety guidelines that would need to be considered when researching the effects on consciousness of one night of full sleep deprivation as a comparison to the effects of legal blood concentration of 0.05.
  • visit the National Sleep Foundation website and investigate the sleep tools they have available, including the National Sleep Foundation official sleep​ diary, the National Sleep Foundation sleepiness test, Tips to help manage your shift work schedule, and Tips to help shift workers nap more effectively; explain the psychological concepts that are relevant to two selected tips
Example icon for advice for teachers 

Detailed example

Investigation of sleep patterns across the lifespan


To compare patterns in the total amount of sleep in a 24-hour cycle across various age groups.


Students investigate the relationship between age and the total hours slept by individuals of varying ages. The task requires students to access a small number of participants of different ages (for example an infant, a child, an adolescent, an adult and an elderly person). The students will be required to collect data, use evidence and transfer their findings to explain this relationship.

Science skills

Teachers should identify and inform students of the relevant key science skills embedded in the task.

Pre-activity preparation

The task follows class work on the importance of sleep, circadian and ultradian rhythms, patterns of sleep and theories of its purpose. A review of self-reports and the use of quantitative data may also be required.


  • Each class member will survey at least one participant in each of the age groups.
  • The students should approach each potential participant and say ‘I am a VCE student doing a survey on sleep patterns as a learning activity; would you mind if I ask you a few short questions? This survey is entirely anonymous’. Note: if the participant is an infant or a child, the students will need to ask the participant’s parent this question.
  • If the participant indicates a willingness to take part, ask ‘Could you tell me which of these age groups applies to you?’ 0-2, 3-12, 13-18, 21-64, 65+. Note: if the participant is an infant or a child, the students will need to ask the participant’s parent this question.
  • The student should then record the age group of the participant and then ask: ‘For each of these questions, could you think back and give the average figure for the past week?’
    1. On a normal day, how many hours did you sleep?
    2. On average, how many times did you awaken during each night?
    3. If you did awaken in the night, on average for how long did you remain awake?
Age ​group Hours of sleep reported Number of times awoken ​​​Time spent awake
Infants (0–2)​
Children (3–12)
Adolescents (13–18)
Adults (19–64)
Elderly (65+)​


Class members ‘pool’ their results and process the quantitative data obtained, using appropriate mathematical calculations and units (for example, descriptive statistics such as a mean). They will organise, present and interpret the data using an appropriate table or graph.

Discussion questions and report writing in logbook

A series of four to six graded questions that address the data and the implications of the relationship between the total amount of sleep and patterns of sleep across the lifespan should be set for students to answer in their logbook, for example:

  • Identify: What are the dependent and independent variables in your investigation?
  • Explain: According to your data, how does the pattern of sleep change across the lifespan?
  • Evaluate: Discuss any potential extraneous variables and how they have affected the data on sleep gathered? Suggest future improvements to address these if the investigation was to be repeated.
  • Propose: What further data could be gathered to investigate how patterns of sleep change across the lifespan? Outline a method for a further testing.

Teaching notes

  • It is important that students understand how to collate the data and perform any calculations. Some students may not, and teachers should lead students when collating the data and demonstrate some calculations, for example the mean values for the first age group (infants) in the table.
  • Further investigation gathering qualitative data about the quality of sleep, dysomnias and parasomnias could also be conducted.