Less Than 5 Hours of Sleep Leads to False Memories

Mandy Oaklander @mandyoaklander Sept. 11, 2014

Skimping on sleep wears down your body in so many ways: it worsens cognitive function, slows reaction time, and makes learning more difficult. (The list goes on and on: after reading our new feature about the power of sleep, you might just scare yourself sleepy.)

That’s quite enough consequences without piling on the results of a recent study in Psychological Science, which found that sleep deprivation is linked to false memories. Among the 193 people tested, those who got 5 or fewer hours of sleep for just one night were significantly more likely to say they’d seen a news video when they actually hadn’t.

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There’s more than just fantastical daydreaming at stake. False memories in the form of eyewitness misidentifications are thought to be the number-one cause of wrongful convictions in the U.S., the study authors write, so sleep deprivation could have consequences beyond the scope of your own health.

The study also discovered that students were more prone to researchers’ false suggestions when they hadn’t slept more than five hours. They wove those suggestions into their responses 38% of the time, while the group that got plenty of sleep did so 28% of the time. That’s probably because sleep deprivation leads to problems encoding new information, the authors write.

“Our results also suggest that total sleep deprivation may not be necessary to increase false memory,” they write in the study. Losing just a few hours could be enough to lead you to dream up facts during waking life.

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