Sleepwalkers May Be Better at Multi-Tasking While Awake

While it is well acknowledged that sleep deficits are bad for the mind and body, a new study suggests short term sleep loss may affect women more than men.

Researchers looked at working memory — the ability to keep track of short-term information used to guide decision-making and behavior. Sleep scientists from Uppsala University discovered that acute sleep loss impacts working memory differently in women and men.

Investigators observed 24 young adults perform a working memory task in the morning following either a full night of sleep or a night of wakefulness. Half of the participants were females, and half were males.

The method used to assess of the working memory task was to learn and remember eight digit sequences.

Contrary to expectations, males’ working memory performance remained unaffected by sleep loss. In contrast, females remembered fewer digits after sleep loss than after a night of sleep.

Importantly, even though their performance was reduced, females were unaware of the drop in working performance when sleep-deprived.

A lack of awareness of impaired mental performance could increase the risk of accidents and mistakes, which can be dangerous in many private and occupational situations, both for the sleep-deprived person as well as for others.

“Our study suggests that particular attention should be paid to young women facing challenges in which they have to cope with both a high working memory load and a lack of sleep.

“However, it must be kept in mind that we have not tested whether the observed sex-dependent effects of sleep loss on working memory during morning hours would also occur at other time points of the day,” explains doctoral student Frida Rångtell, lead author of the study.

Moreover, researchers point out that while the data suggests sleep loss may result in a gender difference in short term memory, the finding does not imply that other mental or physical measures are equally affected.

Source: Uppsala University