YANSS 110 – How sleep deprivation dulls our minds and unleashes our biases

You can’t get less sleep than you need during the week and make it up on the weekends. Sleep deprivation doesn’t work that way. You may think of it like a debt you must pay back. As long as the books are balanced, you’ll be fine. The science, however, says this is far from the truth.

In this episode of the You Are Not So Smart Podcast, we sit down with two scientists who study the effects of sleep deprivation on the body and brain. Their research adds to a growing body of knowledge that says you can’t catch-up on your sleep week-by-week. It’s a myth. And each week you try, you grow lesser and lesser as a whole, wreaking havoc on your health and your cognitive abilities.

Anna Alkozei
Monica Haack

One of the most fascinating aspects of the research conducted by our guests, Anna Alkozei and Monika Haack, is that when you are chronically sleep deprived you become adapted to your own dulled reasoning and decision making. You can’t remember how much smarter you used to be as you acclimate to the new normal. It requires special tests to reveal the extent of your diminished mental powers. Subjectively, you feel fine, just a little drowsy.

According to the National Sleep Foundation you should be getting around
seven to nine hours of sleep every night. Chances are though, you get around five or six. A recent study found nearly 60 percent of UK adults get fewer than seven hours nightly. In the USA, the numbers are around 44 percent.

If you are one of those people, and you could compare the person you are now to the person you were before you became sleep deprived, you’d find you’ve definitely become…lesser than.

In this episode, we sit down with Alkozei and Haack to hear about their latest work, which suggests sleep deprivation also affects how you see other people. In tests of implicit bias, negative associations with certain religious and cultural categories emerged after people started falling behind on rest.

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Great Courses PlusThis episode is sponsored by The Great Courses Plus. Get unlimited access to a huge library of The Great Courses lecture series on many fascinating subjects. Start FOR FREE with Your Deceptive Mind taught by neurologist Steven Novella. Learn about how your mind makes sense of the world by lying to itself and others. Click here for a FREE TRIAL.

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Links and Sources

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Previous Episodes

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Chronic Sleep Restriction Increases Negative Implicit Attitudes Toward Arab Muslims

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The Roots of Implicit Bias

The Lead-Crime Hypothesis

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Rationally Speaking: Jesse Singal on the problems with implicit bias tests

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Project Implicit



Illustration: Flaming June by Frederic Lord Leighton, ~1895