Wellbeing

Sleep deprivation is much more dangerous | New study

In one of the biggest sleep studies to date, researchers have found that sleep deprivation affects us much more than previous theories have suggested.

As a nation of insomniacs, we’re always on the lookout for advice and tips on how to get a better night’s sleep. Taking a hot bath before bedtime, cognitive behavioural therapy sessions and practising breathing techniques are just a handful of tricks we’ve tried out recently. And we all know that we need to kick those bad habits that do us no favours, like online shopping on our phones in bed or drinking caffeine throughout the day.

The loss of sleep is a common problem in modern society, affecting many individuals at some point in their lives.

Sleep deprivation occurs when an individual gets less sleep than they need to feel awake and alert. People vary in how little sleep is needed to be considered sleep-deprived. Some people such as older adults seem to be more resistant to the effects of sleep deprivation, while others, especially children and young adults, are more vulnerable.

Fast facts on sleep deprivation

  • Sleep loss alters normal functioning of attention and disrupts the ability to focus on environmental sensory input
  • Lack of sleep has been implicated as playing a significant role in tragic accidents involving air planes, ships, trains, automobiles and nuclear power plants
  • Children and young adults are most vulnerable to the negative effects of sleep deprivation
  • Sleep deprivation can be a symptom of an diagnosed sleep disorder or other medical problem
  • When you fail to get your required amount of sufficient sleep, you start to accumulate a sleep debt.

Symptoms

The main symptom of ongoing sleep loss is excessive daytime sleepiness, but other symptoms include:

  • Yawning
  • Moodiness
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Depressed mood
  • Difficulty learning new concepts
  • Forgetfulness
  • Inability to concentrate or a “fuzzy” head
  • Lack of motivation
  • Clumsiness
  • Increased appetite and carbohydrate cravings
  • Reduced sex drive

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.

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. The rested participants’ morning scores were similar to the night before.

There are some tasks people can do on auto-pilot that may not be affected by a lack of sleep, However, sleep deprivation causes widespread deficits across all facets of life.

Sleep deprivation is much more dangerous | New study
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