Sleep Deprivation Affects More Than Just Attention, Study Finds

mbg Editorial Assistant By Abby Moore
mbg Editorial Assistant
Abby Moore is an Editorial Assistant at mindbodygreen. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and has previously written for Tribeza magazine.

Image by Sergey Filimonov / Stocksy

There are around 80 distinct sleep disorders, and an estimated 50 to 70 million Americans suffer from poor sleeping patterns. With such a large population not meeting recommended sleeping requirements (seven to eight hours per night for adults), it's safe to assume that the majority of them aren't operating at full speed.

New research from Michigan State University found that sleep deprivation interferes with people's ability to perform multistep tasks.

People can accomplish routine tasks, like brushing their teeth and even taking vital signs, while running on little to no sleep. But the research published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology reveals that your ability to complete complex tasks is impaired.

How did they measure this?

Researchers asked 138 people to participate in an overnight sleep assessment. Some of the participants were asked to go home and sleep, while 77 were asked to stay awake all night. Before going home, all participants completed cognitive evaluations. One tested for reaction times, and the other tested ability to complete a multistep task while being randomly interrupted to see how well they could keep their place (the process is called place-keeping).

Tests were repeated again in the morning to find out how sleep deprivation affected performance. Sporadic interruptions led to mistakes the night before, but error rates of the sleep-deprived group increased by 15% the next morning.

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Why does this matter?

Previous research has associated lack of sleep to declines in fundamental processes, such as poor attention. But this study revealed more severe effects on higher-level cognitive functioning, including problem-solving and procedural performance.

"Place-keeping is a broadly-relevant component of higher-order cognition...that predict real-world outcomes such as academic achievement and job performance," the study said.

The authors of the study hope the new information urges people to recognize their limitations before getting behind the wheel, performing surgery, or starting other high-risk activities. It can also encourage doctors to commit to studying sleep disorders to provide treatment and prevent accidents. 

To promote better sleep, outfit your bedroom with these 10 items, add these nine nutrients to your diet, or take this advice from an expert.

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