Sleep Deprivation and Performance

By Raymond Cheung ‘22

Figure 1. New research confirms the effect of sleep deprivation on cognitive capacity.

Sleep is a necessity that many do not get enough of on a daily basis. Sleep deprivation can significantly impair cognitive function, which can prove dangerous and costly for intensive jobs. While the adverse effects of sleep deprivation on performance are not new, a recent study by Michelle E. Stepan and researchers from Michigan State University employed a large controlled sample to illustrate the detrimental effect sleep deprivation has on memory-dependent tasks.

The researchers split the sample of 234 participants into two equal groups – one of which slept at midnight, and the other which did not sleep. The effect of sleep deprivation on the participants’ memory was observed by their ability to complete an ordered list of tasks while they were periodically interrupted. All participants were asked to complete the tasks at 10 p.m. and then the next morning. Although both groups initially completed the tasks sufficiently, the following morning, 15% of those in the sleep-deprived group failed, compared to 1% of those in the sleep group. The researchers also found that sleep-deprived participants were less willing to complete the tasks and made more errors as time passed.

Overall, sleep-deprived individuals have significantly reduced cognitive capacity, which can have detrimental effects on the health of others and themselves. The researchers suggested that sleep-deprived individuals perform procedural tasks for only short periods if at all. Although sleeping an adequate amount is the best countermeasure against sleep-deprivation, in future studies, the researchers hope to explore the use of caffeine and naps on cognitive performance.



  1. M. Stepan, et. al., Effects of sleep deprivation on procedural errors. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General (2018). doi:  
  2. Image retrieved from:

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