Can Sleep Deprivation Lead to False Memories?

New study examines the link between sleep deprivation and false memories.

Studies have long been concerned with sleep deprivation and the psychological, as well as physical effects this has on a person, studies have also investigated the creation of false memories but generally a link between the two concepts has not been formed.

A new study published in Psychological Science considered the role that sleep deprivation plays in the formation of false memories. (Frenda, et al,. 2014)

The authors of the study highlighted some of the reasons why their research is important:

Memory errors can have serious consequences: For example, eyewitness misidentifications are thought to be the leading cause of wrongful criminal convictions in the United States

Past studies examining false memories have found some interesting findings:

Memories are not “recorded” in the brain. Rather, they are reconstructed using information from multiple sources, and they can change following exposure to misleading postevent information or other suggestive influences

Moreover, people sometimes recall entire events and experiences that never happened, and these false memories can be vivid, emotional, and held with great confidence

The researchers conducted two experiments, all participants were given instructions on how to complete a sleep diary every morning for a week. The first experiment recruited 193 participants and they completed some questionnaires and took part in a misinformation task.

The second experiment recruited 104 participants, those taking part in this experiment either had a normal nights sleep or were sleep deprived. Participants completed several questionnaires measuring mood, sleepiness and memory capacity.

In the second experiment, in the morning the participants then completed more assessments and the misinformation task in order to establish any emergence of false memories.

From the information gathered in the first experiment the researchers were able to show that restricted sleep was associated with increased false memory and that participants who reported less than 5 hours sleep the previous night were more likely to report witnessing an event that they didn’t actually see.

There was also a trend for these participants to incorporate more misleading information into their memory for visual materials.

The information gathered in the second experiment was able to show a greater susceptibility to false memories relative to the rested group, but only when sleep was deprived at 3 stages of the misinformation task.

The authors concluded that sleep deprivation appeared to increase the risk of false memories and that restricted sleep could also be enough to increase the risk of false memories.

The authors argue for an increase in the diversity of methodological approaches in the investigation of sleep deprivation and false memory in future studies.