Sleep Deprivation and Stress Can Lead to Worse Cognitive Functioning

A University of Pennsylvania study shows why prioritizing sleep is even more important for people under psychological stress.

Photo by Skaman306/ Getty Images

We’re often told that getting an average of eight hours of sleep can lead to better decision-making and healthier habits, but research from the University of Pennsylvania proves that without enough sleep, individuals who are already under psychological stress can potentially suffer from more significant cognitive impairment in memory and attention than others.

The study, conducted by a team of researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, used a group of subjects to look at the body’s key regulators of gene expression, microRNAs, in order to track responses to sleep deprivation and its problematic effect on cognitive performance.

Over the course of the five-day experiment, the researchers observed 32 healthy adults as they underwent two eight-hour baseline nights of sleep, followed by 39 hours of total sleep deprivation, and then they underwent two “recovery nights,” where they slept for another eight to 10 hours.

After the five-day cycle, the subjects were tested for attention levels, memory, and overall cognitive performance, in addition to having their blood tested to analyze MiRNAs from plasma.

The researchers found that compared to the blood samples taken prior to the experiment, 10 miRNAs showed changes in expression in subjects who experienced the sleep deprivation, and 18 miRNAS showed changes when paired with psychological stress.

The results prove that miRNA’s can, in fact, track responses to sleep deprivation and its effects on brain function, especially when paired with psychological stress — information that can help us understand the detrimental impairments that lack of sleep can cause. The results also explain why some sleep-deprived people tend to experience worse cognitive function than others, which can help us see the scope of the relationship between mental health and sleep deprivation.

Read more about the study here.

Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

You might also like...

Photo credit: Ain Ask / EyeEm/Getty Images
Thrive Global News//

The Common Sleep Habit That’s Hurting Your Health

by Stephanie Fairyington

Sleep Deprivation: The Silent Killer

by Stacey Chillemi
Unplug & Recharge//

This Is How Your Brain Suffers When You’re Sleep-Deprived

by Arianna Huffington

Sign up for the Thrive Global newsletter

Will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

Thrive Global
People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.


We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.