A new study adds to the evidence that sleep deprivation has a significant effect on our day-to-day functioning.
Medical experts have warned that if we have slept poorly overnight, we are twice as likely to commit errors, some of which may well be very costly.
Having a good night’s sleep is key to maintaining both physical and cognitive health. Our bodies know this instinctively, and researchers have proved many a time that this is true.
Conversely, poor sleep may lead to cardiovascular disease, contribute to depression, and increase a person’s risk of diabetes.
Some researchers have also warned that sleep loss can affect aspects of our memory and visual perception so severely that driving after a sleepless night can be very dangerous.
Following on from such evidence, researchers from Michigan State University’s Sleep and Learning Lab in East Lansing have conducted further research on sleep, attention, and higher order cognitive functioning.
For their study, the investigators recruited 138 participants, whom they split into two groups: 77 people stayed in the laboratory overnight and had no sleep, while the remaining 61 participants slept at home.
The evening before, all of the volunteers took part in two tasks. The first one measured their reaction time to a particular stimulus, and the second one assessed their placekeeping abilities — that is, how well they were able to follow the particular steps of a complex process even with repeated interruptions.
On the morning after, each participant had to repeat these tasks to see how their performance compared with that of the previous evening. The researchers found that the participants who had experienced sleep deprivation struggled significantly.
“Our research showed that sleep deprivation doubles the odds of making placekeeping errors and triples the number of lapses in attention, which is startling,” says study co-author Kimberly Fenn.
“Sleep deprived individuals need to exercise caution in absolutely everything that they do and simply can’t trust that they won’t make costly errors. Oftentimes — like when behind the wheel of a car — these errors can have tragic consequences,” she warns.
Although it may not come as a surprise that lack of sleep reduces a person’s ability to focus, the researchers note that their recent study shows that sleep deprivation actually affects higher cognitive functioning, interfering with memory recall to a large extent.
“Our findings debunk a common theory that suggests that attention is the only cognitive function affected by sleep deprivation,” says first author Michelle Stepan.