Study after study finds that sleep deprivation, even just a night or two here and there, really takes a toll on the body and mind. Does anybody really believe that staying up all night is good for them? I mean, something that makes you feel that terrible the next day can’t possibly be good for you in either the short or the long term. Of course, there are times when it can’t be avoided – parenting, studying for college exams, EDM festivals – but that doesn’t make it any less harmful. While the science showing sleep deprivation is absolutely terrible for you is well established, a new study conducted by neuroscientists at Uppsala University in Sweden has found that staying up all night is actually worse for women than it is for men. Can there really a biological basis for such a claim?
The study involved twenty four young adults, half of whom were women (for some reason, the study also notes that all twelve were taking oral contraceptives). The participants were given “working memory tests” in which they had to remember eight-digit number sequences overnight, both after sleeping a regular eight hours and again after getting no sleep. The study found that while both women and men faired poorly after getting no sleep, women were much more likely to believe that they were fine after getting no sleep as opposed to men who realized how impaired they were:
We found that sleep loss impaired objective but not self-estimated working memory performance in women. Being unaware of cognitive limitations when sleep-deprived, as seen in our study, could lead to undesirable consequences in, for example, an occupational context. Our findings suggest that sleep-deprived young women are at particular risk for overestimating their working memory performance.
The study suggests that by overestimating their cognitive abilities when sleep deprived, women who regularly miss sleep could be putting themselves in danger in the workplace or say, when driving. Granted, a sample size of twenty-four individuals of the same age and a single working memory test with self-rated estimations of ability aren’t exactly indicators that this phenomenon could be universal. Still, it’s an interesting result and one worthy of replicating in the future to see if the same results could be found under similar conditions.