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Surprising Science

Sleeplessness Will Wreak Havoc On Your Memory

A new study shows that when you pull an all-nighter or deprive yourself of sleep, you also put yourself at risk of developing false or inaccurate memories.

What’s the Latest?


A new study published in Psychological Science reveals just how dire the consequences of sleep deprivation can be. It turns out that when you pull an all-nighter, it’s not just your sleep schedule getting wrecked; it’s your memory as well. Researchers at UC Irvine found that subjects who had not slept the night before a test exhibited signs of false or altered memories when asked to describe a previously-seen photograph. Sleep-deprived brains distort memories by incorporating false and/or assumed information during recall. What results is a recollection in which memory gaps are filled by misinformation or preconceived notions.

What’s the Big Idea?

These findings have far-reaching implications. First, it solidifies the case that sleep deprivation is dangerously unhealthy (and that the 50-70 million Americans who suffer from it should seek help). Second, it gives credence to the argument that staying up all night to study for a test can actually be to a student’s detriment. Finally — and most important to the folks behind the study — that witnesses who testify after long, restless interrogations could potentially have their claims thrown out under the condition that their memories had become impaired due to lack of sleep. 

Take a look at the Scientific American article linked below to learn about the tests researchers administered and how memory recall is much more like running a computer diagnostics test than listening to a fixed recording.

And if you’re reading this on a tablet in your bed at 3 a.m., please do yourself a favor and call it a night.

Read more at Scientific American

Photo credit: Cecilia Lim H M / Shutterstock


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