In a new study, researchers found that sleep deprivation affects health much more than prior theories have suggested.
This one of the largest sleep studies to date. It is also the first to assess how sleep deprivation impacts placekeeping—or, the ability to complete a series of steps without losing one’s place, despite potential interruptions.
The research was conducted by a team at Michigan State University’s Sleep and Learning Lab.
This study builds on prior research from MSU’s sleep scientists to quantify the effect lack of sleep has on a person’s ability to follow a procedure and maintain attention.
The researchers recruited 138 people to participate in the overnight sleep assessment; 77 stayed awake all night and 61 went home to sleep.
All participants took two separate cognitive tasks in the evening: one that measured reaction time to a stimulus; the other measured a participant’s ability to maintain their place in a series of steps without omitting or repeating a step—even after sporadic interruptions.
The participants then repeated both tasks in the morning to see how sleep-deprivation affected their performance.
The team found that that sleep deprivation doubles the odds of making placekeeping errors and triples the number of lapses in attention.
After being interrupted there was a 15% error rate in the evening and we saw that the error rate spiked to about 30% for the sleep-deprived group the following morning
These individuals need to exercise caution in absolutely everything that they do, and simply can’t trust that they won’t make costly errors.
The findings debunk a common theory that suggests that attention is the only cognitive function affected by sleep deprivation.
Some sleep-deprived people might be able to hold it together under routine tasks, like a doctor taking a patient’s vitals.
The team hopes that people will acknowledge how significantly their abilities are hindered because of a lack of sleep.
One author of the study is Michelle Stepan, an MSU doctoral candidate.
The study is published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.
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