As students, we all know what it’s like rushing to finish assignments for an 11:59 p.m. deadline, or studying for tomorrow’s test into the early hours of the morning. We come into university knowing that sleep deprivation comes with the territory and that it’s a part of student life.

While insufficient sleep obviously impairs our everyday lives, it can also be detrimental to our long-term health and is related to many physical and mental illnesses, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, among others. Total Sleep Deprivation (TSD) is known to greatly diminish the quality of many cognitive processes, including attention and working memory. One key cognitive process, place-keeping, involves both memory and attention and is vital if you want to adequately carry out problem-solving and procedural tasks. Place-keeping is the ability to accurately maintain one’s place within the sequence of a given task. For example, heating up a frying pan before having cracked and beaten the eggs.

A study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology wanted to test these claims and conducted a study on the effects of TSD on undergraduate students from the University of Michigan. In order to be considered, the participants could not have been diagnosed with memory or sleep disorders, could not be colour-blind, and could not have had any recent major sleep disturbances.

The participants were asked to sleep a minimum of six hours before the experiment and were not allowed to consume caffeine, drugs, or alcohol 24 hours beforehand. They were taken through tests that measured attention, memory, and place-keeping performance at 10:00 p.m. The assessment lasted two hours and they were asked about their mood and sleepiness. They were then split into two groups: rested and deprived. The members of the rested group were sent home with a sleep monitor, whereas the members of the deprived group stayed and were assessed with the same tests every two hours, keeping them awake for approximately 24 hours. Both groups were assessed for a final time at 9:00 a.m. the next morning.

The results found that sleep deprivation caused increased lapses in attention and problems maintaining memory for many of the participants. The study also found that place-keeping becomes impaired with sleep derivation, although it can be impaired even if attention is not greatly affected.

These findings only add to the negative side effects of sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation is well documented to be severely problematic and unhealthy, but these findings show that it can directly impair the most basic cognitive processes that are needed to function properly.

Attention and memory are so important to student life and are necessary for success. Sleep needs to be one of the top priorities for all students, or else all the hard studying that prevents students from getting to sleep in the first place will have been for nothing.

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