Researchers at the University of California and Michigan State University found that sleep deprivation may actually create false memories. Physical disorders have long been linked to poor sleep, and the study titled “Sleep Deprivation and False Memories” published in Psychological Science builds on previous work that found a poor/false memory connection to sleep.
Previous studies on sleep deprivation have shown an association with various types of impaired cognitive functions and memory distortion regarding remembering things like lists of words. This study, however, showed memory distortion regarding real life events that involve people.
The experiment set up in the study was to test participants on their ability to recall information from crime photos. First, the subjects read narratives of eyewitness statements that were given in regard to a crime. The eyewitness statements provided different data compared to the information in the crime photos, which were subsequently shown to the participants in the study.
For example, a narrative might say that the thief put the stolen wallet in the pocket of his pants, but the photo would show the wallet was actually put in his jacket. The job of the subject was to accurately describe what was in the crime photo. One group of subjects was allowed to sleep during the night and another group of subjects had to stay up all night without sleeping. Also, subjects performed the memory task before sleeping for the night.
Previously, the researchers found that sleeping less than five hours at night was associated with false memory formation. The recently reported study was an extension of this previous study. In the recent study, the subjects that stayed up all night were significantly more likely to indicate that the details in the narratives were the same as in the crime photos, which was incorrect, rather than correctly indicating that the narrative contained information that was different from that in the photos.