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Sleep Deprivation Increases Susceptibility To False Memories

Update Date: Jul 24, 2014 12:10 PM EDT

Getting inadequate sleep might increase the likelihood of forming false memories, according to a new research.

In the study, sleep-deprived people who viewed photographs of crime being committed and then read false information about the photos were more likely to report remembering the false details in the photos than were those who got a full night’s sleep, the press release added.

Previous research demonstrated that failing to get your full eight hours interferes with cognitive functioning, however this study noticed a gap in the literature when it came to sleep and memory.

“Over the years I noticed that whenever I had a bad night’s sleep, my perception and memory seemed to get fuzzy until I had a good recovery sleep,” explained lead researcher psychological scientist Steven J. Frenda of the University of California. “I was surprised to find that there were so few empirical studies connecting sleep deprivation with memory distortion in an eyewitness context. The studies that do exist look mostly at sleep deprived people’s ability to accurately remember lists of words—not real people, places and events.”

The preliminary study suggested that getting 5 hours of sleep or less was associated with the formation of false memories.

“Recent studies are suggesting that people are getting fewer hours of sleep on average, and chronic sleep deprivation is on the rise,” said Frenda. “Our findings have implications for the reliability of eyewitnesses who may have experienced long periods of restricted or deprived sleep.”

Frenda further added that more research is necessary before scientists can provide law enforcement with evidence-based guidelines on how to best ensure that eyewitnesses' memories are accurate.

“We are running new experiments now, in order to better understand the influence of sleep deprivation on processes related to false memory.”

The research has been published in Psychological Science.

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