sleep loss affects memory
July 22, 2014

Sleepy? It’s A Sure Bet Your Memory Is Affected As Well As Your Health

April Flowers for - Your Universe Online

Going without sleep over a long period of time can be detrimental to your health in many ways, including depression, heart disease, high blood pressure, weight gain and even a lack of sex drive. WebMD cites sleeplessness as a mitigating factor in some of the largest disasters in recent history, including Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

So many people suffer from a chronic lack of sleep that it is considered a public health epidemic. A new study from Michigan State University and the University of California, Irvine, demonstrates that sleeplessness can also affect your memory.

The researchers found that people deprived of only one night's sleep were more likely to forget the details of a simulated burglary they were shown in a series of images than those who slept the night through. The findings were published in a recent issue of Psychological Science.

Many areas of a person's life and social interactions can suffer from distorted memory. Serious consequences can occur. For example, eyewitness misidentifications are thought to be the leading cause of wrongful convictions in the US. How many of those wrongful convictions can be laid at the feet of sleeplessness?

“We found memory distortion is greater after sleep deprivation,” said Kimberly Fenn, MSU associate professor of psychology, in a recent statement. “And people are getting less sleep each night than they ever have.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has labeled insufficient sleep as an epidemic, linking it to automobile crashes, industrial disasters and chronic diseases.

Fenn collaborated with Steven Frenda and Elizabeth Loftus from UC-Irvine. Experiments were conducted at both universities to quantify the effect of insufficient sleep on memory. They found that participants kept awake for 24 hours were more likely to mix up details than participants who were well rested. Surprisingly, they also found that people who slept five hours or fewer were similarly affected.

“People who repeatedly get low amounts of sleep every night could be more prone in the long run to develop these forms of memory distortion,” Fenn said. “It’s not just a full night of sleep deprivation that puts them at risk.”

Psychology Today suggests some actions that can be taken to overcome insufficient sleep, including catnapping, getting more sunlight, relatively intense exercise for short periods of time, and drink tea or coffee in the morning. The authors also suggest instituting a "down time" into your schedule before you try to sleep—get off the computer and cell phone, do restful tasks such as flossing your teeth and laying out your clothes for the next day. This allows your mind to slow down and ready itself for sleep.