Sleep deprivation alert: Be more cautious about your day-to-day tasks

Too short, long sleep linked to incurable lung disease © Shutterstock

If you do not sleep enough, you are likely to make dangerous errors in everything you do.

We all have come across numerous studies uncovering the harmful effects of sleep deprivation but the problem is much deeper and serious than what has been reported to date. A new study by Michigan State University's Sleep and Learning Lab has conducted one of the largest sleep studies, revealing that lack of sleep affects us much more than prior theories have suggested. Published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, the study is the first to assess how sleep deprivation impacts placekeeping, or the ability to complete a series of steps without losing one's place, despite potential interruptions.

"Our research showed that sleep deprivation doubles the odds of making placekeeping errors and triples the number of lapses in attention, which is startling," said researcher Kimberly M. Fenn. "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."

"Our findings debunk a common theory that suggests that attention is the only cognitive function affected by sleep deprivation," said co-researcher Michelle E. Stepan.

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The researcher went on to explain that some sleep-deprived people might be able to hold it together under routine tasks, like a doctor taking a patient's vitals. But when it comes to completing a whole technical procedure, it might get riskier. 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 per cent error rate in the evening and we saw that the error rate spiked to about 30 per cent for the sleep-deprived group the following morning," Stepan explained.

On the other hand, participants who had rested had morning scores similar to the night. "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," Fenn opined.

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