You know the feeling when you are lying cozy in your bed watching your latest Netflix binge. You know you are exhausted, but when it automatically plays the next episode, you feel powerless to stop it. You are drawn in by the captivating start of the next episode, you ignore your body’s call for sleep, and decide that yawning your way through tomorrow’s day will not be that bad. Before you know it, the sun is rising. It can be easy to allow sleep to fall low on your priority list but the consequences of sleep deprivation stretch far beyond feeling a little sleepy the next day. Sleep deprivation has extensive effects from memory to brain cell growth and may even lead you to admit to something you didn’t do.
It is bad enough to be blamed for something you did not do, but even worse when you are the one blaming yourself. One of the most shocking effects of sleep deprivation is that when you are extremely tired, you are more likely to admit guilt for something that you did not do. A recent study conducted by Michigan State University asked participants if they were guilty of an action that they had in fact not done and found that those who had been up for 24 hours were 4.5 times more likely to admit to the action than participants with 8 hours of sleep. This startling statistic raises questions about our society’s current judicial procedures, which often include the interrogation of sleep deprived suspects, especially when considering those false confessions make up between 15 and 20 percent of all wrongful convictions (Frenda et al. 2015).
Although the judicial issue seems complex, the solution is quite simple. The team of Michigan State researchers who conducted the experiment recommend that all interrogations be videotaped so that the mental state of the suspect can evaluated thoroughly. Additionally, they recommend that suspects should be issued a test measuring how tired they are, such as the Stanford Sleepiness Scale; before being interrogated (Frenda et al. 2015). If you’re concerned about making false confessions in your life, the easiest answer is just to get more sleep.
Scientists have not yet uncovered the definitive link between sleep deprivation and false confession. However, they have hypothesized it may have something to do with sleep deprivation’s impairment of memory.
For years scientists have known that sleep deprived people have a worse memory, however, it was not until recently that they uncovered the biological basis for this phenomenon. Sleep deprivation causes a loss of connectivity between neurons, which transmit signals to the brain, and a region of the brain known as the Hippocampus, which is responsible for learning and memory. This loss of connectivity is caused by increased activity of the protein collin which causes a decrease in the length and density of neurons called dendrites. These neurons are the parts of neurons that receive the signals from other neurons so when they are shrunk messages are less effectively communicated to the Hippocampus, therefore impeding the formation of memories (Havekes et al. 2016).
There are two main types of memory, declarative and nondeclarative. Nondeclarative memory has to do with skills and abilities, such as riding a bike, whereas declarative memory encompasses anything factual and is divided into two subsections episodic, which includes facts about your personal life and semantic, which includes facts about the world in general. Declarative memory, both episodic and semantic, is more affected by sleep deprivation (Alhola & Polo-Kantola 2007). Therefore, if you are not well rested, it will be more challenging to remember specific facts for a test or even to remember what you ate for breakfast that morning.
If the fear of forgetfulness is not enough to get you to bed at a reasonable hour, you may want to consider the loss of brain growth that occurs as a result of sleep loss.
Decline of Neurogenesis
Neurogenesis, which is the proliferation, or growth of cells in the brain, is facilitated through sleep. When you are sleep deprived, your brain experiences elevated levels of glucocorticoids, stress-causing hormones, which along with causing stress-related side effects such as headaches, impede the growth of brain cells (Mirescu et al. 2006).
Psychologists Christian Mirescu, Jennifer D. Peters, Liron Noiman, and Elizabeth Gould conducted a study to examine the effects of sleep deprivation on neurogenesis. Their findings regarding sleep deprivation can be illustrated by imagining a closed empty cardboard box. You can place a few items on top of the box and it will support them easily; However, as you load more and more things on top of the box, it will begin to approach its maximum capacity, sinking lower in the middle and losing its ability to support the weight. Similarly, after only 24 hours of sleep deprivation, there has not been evidence suggesting a decline in neurological cell proliferation. However, when examining the effects of 72 hours of sleep deprivation, researchers found that not only was brain cell proliferation substantially lower but stress hormone levels had increased (Mirescu et al. 2006). The compounded effect of several nights of sleep deprivation is decreased rate of neurogenesis, meaning you’ll have less brain cell growth.
Changing your Mindset
Feeling sleepy the next day may not be enough to motivate you to catch some extra shuteye. However, hopefully the effects of sleep deprivation on your innocence, memory, and potential brain cells have been very convincing. So the next time you are considering watching that extra episode of your latest Netflix binge, you may want to consider all that is at stake. Is it really worth one more?
Alhola P, & Polo-Kantola, P. (2007, October 3). Sleep deprivation: Impact on cognitive performance. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, 3(5), 553–567. Retrieved 2016, Sept 1 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2656292/
Frenda R, Berkowitz SR, Loftus EF, & Fenn KM. (2015, December 2). Sleep deprivation and false confessions. Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences, Retrieved 2016, Sept 16, from: http://www.pnas.org/content/113/8/2047
Havekes R, Park AJ, Tudor JC, Luczak VC, Hansen RT, Ferri SL, Bruinenberg VM, Poplawski SG, Day JP, Aton SJ, Radwańska K, Meerlo P, Houslay MD, Baillie GS, & Abel T. (2016, Aug 26). Sleep deprivation causes memory deficits by negatively impacting neuronal connectivity in hippocampal area CA1. eLife, DOI:10.7554/eLife.13424 Retrived 2016, Sept 11 from: https://elifesciences.org/content/5/e13424/article-info
Mirescu C, Peters JD, Noiman L, & Gould E. (2006, June 6). Sleep deprivation inhibits adult neurogenesis in the hippocampus by elevating glucocorticoids. Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences vol. 103 no. 50. Retrieved 2016, Sept 11 from: http://www.pnas.org/content/103/50/19170.full