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Sleep-deprivation and Stress Can Lead to Worse Cognitive Functioning, New Study Says

A new 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 new 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 recent 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 8-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 8-10 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. 

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