Anyone who suffers from insomnia can attest that the effects can be devastating, from low concentration to nausea and anxiety.
Now, one of the largest studies on sleep to date has proved just how dangerous the effects of sleep deprivation can be be.
The research by Michigan State University’s Sleep and Learning Lab debunks a myth that attention is the only cognitive function affected by lack of sleep, and proves people are at a far greater risk of making costly errors – both in work and life – if they haven’t slept well.
“Our research showed that sleep deprivation doubles the odds of making placekeeping errors and triples the number of lapses in attention, which is startling,” co-author Kimberley Fenn said. “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.”
The research tested 138 participants in an overnight sleep assessment; 77 stayed awake and 61 went to sleep.
All participants took part in two cognitive tasks that evening: one that measured reaction time and the other, a participant’s ability to maintain their place in a series of steps without omitting or repeating a step.
“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,” co-author Michelle Stepan said. “The rested participants’ morning scores were similar to the night before.
Published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, the authors hope the study can raise awareness about the dangers of sleep deprivation.
“Our findings debunk a common theory that suggests that attention is the only cognitive function affected by sleep deprivation,” Stepan added. “Some sleep-deprived people might be able to hold it together under routine tasks, like a doctor taking a patient’s vitals. But our results suggest that completing an activity that requires following multiple steps, such as a doctor completing a medical procedure, is much riskier under conditions of sleep deprivation.”
If you’re among the 16 million people in the UK that suffer from insomnia, take a look at our tips for getting a good night’s sleep, from avoiding stimulation to the best sleep sprays and apps.