Sleep Deprivation & Cognitive-Function. Alertness Is Only The Beginning:
One of the typical habits many people have is operating based on assumptions.
It’s not always a bad idea, because we each come from a context we’re born into, that teaches us a worldview.
And life is already too complex, so we often need a type of shorthand.
Especially for stored-knowledge that gets handed down over time.
But those ideas can often be wrong at the start, or become obsolete with time.
And some researchers from Michigan State are finding out anyone interested in both Health & Productivity is making a huge mistake in their assumptions about sleep…
Good Sleep Pooh-Poohed By Workaholics, Bosses, Elons:
So for many of us, we just assume that Sleep is an intermittent inconvenience.
It’s something we have to do that gets in the way of the rest of our lives.
This is especially-true for anyone who has an obsessive-attitude about their job.
Honestly, I have no idea how Elon Musk does any of it, especially 80+ hour work-weeks.
Because of this assumption, we often treat sleep with less respect than it deserves and end up with some kind of debt or deficit.
But The Short Answer for the current study is that sleep-debt and deprivation are actually much more serious than we thought,
And can lead to significant, measurable declines in productivity and accuracy in any task that has more than 1 step, or relies on very-short-term memory, often with serious consequences.
Read on to find out the Details…
The Cognitive-Performance Tests You’re Actually Taking Every Day:
So not all of us will volunteer to take a standardized cognitive-aptitude or processing test each day of our lives.
On the other side of that, our key assumption about sleep-debt is that it’s only component is a lack of alertness.
But what if that assumption were wrong?
And what if our daily lives, our daily commutes, and especially our jobs,
However much they consist of memorized-routines,
Are all actually a repeated set of various cognitive performance-tests we all take every day without thinking of them as such?
Wait. Where Was I Going With That Again?:
And that’s where the current-research picks up.
Because several dimensions of your cognitive ability are being impacted by your sleep quality & quantity; -or lack of it.
And they Are being tested on a daily-basis; just ask the passengers on a commuter-train where the engineer fell asleep a mile before the station.
So Kimberly Fenn’s team as MSU got together about 140 subjects.
They participated in an overnight sleep experiment where almost 80 of them stayed up all night,
And about 60 went home and got their normal amount & quality of sleep.
Early at night, several hours before they would have gone to sleep, they all took 2 baseline tests to determine their cognitive abilities.
One was for Reaction-Time. And another was for the ability to complete a multi-step task and whether they could complete it without omitting or repeating any steps.
This test also included interruptions as a way to test the subjects’ short-term working-memory.
Disruption-Junction What Was That Function?:
And the results are pretty-telling.
For the initial-baseline, the place-keeping Error-Rate for subjects on the multi-step task with interruptions was 15%.
The next morning after 1 night of sleep-deprivation, that error-rate doubled to 30% on average.
And since it’s been previously-studied to show that even 1/2 night of sleep-loss can reduce a person’s cognitive-function down to the level of someone with a 0.1% Blood-Alcohol-Level,
It won’t surprise you to find that the Alertness scores got even worse than the place-keeping ones.
Lapses in attention to the test went up by 300% after the MSU subjects lost 1 full night of sleep.
Be Careful! Even Regular Tasks Can Still Have Consequences:
Now even though we all have memorized-things we do throughout the day,
The key takeaway that Dr. Fenn wants people to get is they should not underestimate how impaired their Function is,
Not just their Attention.
If you have a simple-procedure you’ve memorized to do that’s one thing.
But it’s another issue entirely if you have a complex, multi-step procedure to complete where each successive step depends on the previous ones,
And any mistakes could have serious-consequences.
Like a truck-driver trying to navigate bad road-conditions, a doctor completing a medical procedure, or an iron-worker doing very tricky and dangerous engineering assemblies.
There are probably Many systems in the brain running at 1/2 speed, 1/3 speed, or less.
But the assumption we make that sleepiness only means lack of Alertness is wrong and could have serious consequences.
So this means you have to be honest with yourself about how indebted you are to your 8-hour/night obligation,
And be seriously-careful about every single thing you do; especially the important stuff.
But Wait, Sleep Deprivation’s Dangers Get Even More Serious:
Other studies in the past suggest that sleep-debt actually hurts your brain.
For example, one study found that after 3 nights of only 25% of normal sleep,
One quarter of the cells in the brains of test-animals’ alertness-region died and didn’t grow back.
-Even with recovery-sleep allowed afterwards.
This may not be the case with humans, but it’s a sobering stat.
Especially since, the average adult in the western world is estimated to be in at least 12-15% of some kind of sleep-debt.
So you too may be a Zombie!
Even though being allergic to sleep is seen as a badge-of-honor in the business world,
It’s really doing no good for your Brain.
And that study just looked at One region; who knows what it’s doing to all the others, including your memory-center, the Hippocampus.
A Short List Of Sleep-Debt Related Health Problems:
So not only do all-nighters wreck your metabolism,
There are a set of health-problems that come along with chronic sleep-debt.
A short list of them is as follows:
1) Obesity and Reduced Insulin Sensitivity
2) Slower Metabolism
3) Immune Problems
4) Increased Inflammation
5) Higher Chance of Getting Colds & Flu
6) Lower Productivity
7) Increased Stress
8) Lower Work & Education Achievement
9) Impaired Creativity, Cognitive Function, Decision-Making, and Memory
10) Increased Correlation With Anxiety & Depression
11) Increased Correlation With Alzheimer’s & Dementia
and the worst of all:
12) Increased Correlation With Having A Shorter Lifespan
SCIENCE To The Rescue! There Is Something You Can Do About It!:
Sleeping in on weekends has been shown to reduce #12 to the same rate as people who get normal amounts of sleep.
So that’s one more tool at your disposal.
But there’s one that’s even better.
In a series of exhaustive tests, Dr. Sara Mednick examined all kinds of cognitive-performance similar to what the MSU team measured.
And what she found is that the best were 90-minute naps, but even shorter ones helped.
They significantly-restored at-least Productivity and Creativity back to the high-level they were at both:
The beginning of the work-day, and also the beginning of the work-week.
As those two metrics tail-off as time passes throughout both frames of reference.
Just Ask Sara Mednick; Naps Have A Fantastic List Of Benefits:
Furthermore, contrary to all the awful stuff chronic-sleep-debt is supposed to wreck about your body and your life,
Check out the awesomeness of all the things Naps improve (that Caffeine only tricks you into thinking it has):
3) Stress Levels & Management
5) Job Satisfaction
7) Decision-Making Abilities
9) Weight Loss
10) General Cardiovascular Health
11) Mental Health
12) Memory Of All Types
Social Jet Lag Be Damned! Power Naps Rescue Night-Owls, Productivity:
So there you go!
Another set of assumptions we all work-on, either subconsciously, or begrudgingly,
Busted; when it comes to Sleep.
But as more than one study has shown, there Are things you can do to claw-back at the chronic loss of sleep.
Even something as lowly as a 30 or 60 minute Power-Nap has been shown to be effective!
Just think what would happen if you followed the NSF’s list of healthy sleep recommendations,
Sleep-deprivation may be terrible for your attention, memory, procedural place-keeping and all kinds of other things, but you can still fight back!
• Source: MSU
• More Coverage: MSU, Increased Errors From Sleep-Debt | Harvard – Patterns In Healthy Sleep
• Source Study: J.Exp.Psy – Effects of total sleep deprivation on procedural placekeeping: More than just lapses of attention