|Prior theories have underestimated the dangerous effects of sleep deprivation / Photo by: fizkes via Shutterstock|
Prior theories have underestimated the dangerous effects of sleep deprivation. A new study conducted by Michigan State University's Sleep and Learning Lab revealed that sleep deprivation doubles a person’s odds of making “placekeeping” errors.
Sleep Deprivation Impairs Placekeeping
Placekeeping is the ability to complete a series of steps or complex procedures without losing one’s place. It is a “higher-order process that involves memory operations,” the authors described via media medical research platform Medical Xpress.
Their study, which is one of the largest sleep research projects to date, highlighted that sleep-deprived individuals cannot just trust that they will not make costly errors. An example of this would be when they are driving a car. Having an impaired placekeeping ability may lead to tragic consequences.
|The result showed that there was a 15% error rate after the participants were interrupted. However, the error rate increased to about 30% for the sleep-deprived individuals the following morning / Photo by: pathdoc via Shutterstock|
Sleep-Deprived vs. Rested Participants
For their study, the team gathered 138 individuals. These people underwent an overnight sleep assessment, wherein 77 stayed awake all night and 61 went home for a full night's sleep. The evening before, the two groups completed two cognitive tasks. One measured their reaction time to a certain stimulus and the other measured their ability to maintain their place in complex procedures or steps without having to repeat a step or omitting one despite sporadic interruptions. The 138 participants also repeated the two tasks in the morning to determine how sleep deprivation affected their performance.
The team used the Psychomotor Vigilance Task, a sustained-attention and reaction-timed task that measures the speed at which the subject will respond to the stimulus. They also used UNRAVEL to measure the participants’ placekeeping ability.
The result showed that there was a 15% error rate after the participants were interrupted. However, the error rate increased to about 30% for the sleep-deprived individuals the following morning. On the other hand, the morning scores of the rested participants were just the same as the night before.
Co-author Kimberly Fenn said that although there are tasks that people can just do on auto-pilot and may not be affected even if the person lacks sleep, it is undeniable that sleep deprivation is linked to widespread deficits in different aspects of life. For example, sleep-deprived doctors can still take their patient’s vitals but the result may be riskier if they have to follow multiple steps in the medical procedure.
Fenn warned that sleep-deprived individuals should exercise caution in everything that they do. Their findings also debunked the common belief that the only cognitive function affected by sleep deprivation is attention. It also affects procedural placekeeping.
Sleepless Night Impairs “Selective Attention”
Sleep is important to different brain functions such as how neurons communicate with each other. The previous study by researchers from Willamette University in Oregon showed that sleep deprivation impairs the person’s ability to focus on certain information when other things are occurring at the same time. This is called selective attention. This is the kind of ability that allows a person to focus on a conversation with one person while they are in a party full of people or while they are hearing other conversations going on.
The researchers asked both the control group and the sleep-deprivation group to listen to two different stories at the same time. Each of these stories, which contained different content and narrations, was played in a different ear. While the stories were played, the researchers measured the brain activity of the participants. The goal of the study subjects was to selectively pay attention to just one story. The result of the experiment revealed that people who were not sleep-deprived had an easier time paying attention to one story.
|Sleep is important to different brain functions such as how neurons communicate with each other / Photo by: Stock-Asso via Shutterstock|
Sleep Disorder Statistics
It’s no secret that having a good night's sleep is beneficial to both our mental and physical health. It positively affects our learning capabilities and memory. However, 50 million to 70 million Americans still have a sleep disorder of some kind and the annual costs related to insomnia in the US alone surpass $100 billion, revealed the National Center for Biotechnology Information. Direct costs include physician visits, relevant medical procedures, and prescription medications. On the other hand, indirect costs associated with insomnia include cost as a result of workplace and vehicle accidents, work absences, and reduced productivity.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that drowsy driving caused more than 72,000 car accidents and more than 800 fatalities. This number may be higher though because it is not always easy for crash investigators to determine if the driver was too sleepy to drive. Meanwhile, the American Sleep Association published that 9% to 21% of women and 24% to 31% of men in the US suffer from obstructive sleep apnea.
In a 2018 Sleep in America Poll, among the US adults with “excellent sleep health," nearly 90% of them felt “very effective” in getting things done every day. The poll revealed, though, that only 10% of US adults prioritize sleep over other aspects of their daily living such as social life (9%), personal interests and hobbies (17%), work (27%), and nutrition and fitness (35%).