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Sleep Loss and Memory

Loss of a night’s sleep may lead to significant errors in memory, according to Michigan State University and University of California, Irvine researchers.

MSU associate professor of psychology Kimberly Fenn and Steven Frenda and Elizabeth Loftus from UC-Irvine conducted experiments to evaluate how insufficient sleep affected memory. They found that depriving participants of a good night’s sleep led to a greater probability of mis-recalling details of a simulated burglary shown in a sequence of images.

Individuals kept awake for 24 hours, or even those allowed five or fewer hours of sleep, were more likely to confuse details of events than participants who had a good rest.

Memory distortion may have serious consequences in areas such as criminal justice, with misidentifications by eyewitnesses thought to be the greates cause of wrongful convictions in the USA.

Kimberly Fenn commented:

“We found memory distortion is greater after sleep deprivation. And people are getting less sleep each night than they ever have.”

“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.”

The study is published online in Psychological Science

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