Thinking of burning the midnight oil? Maybe don’t—after twenty-four hours, the quality of your thinking won’t be so great. In fact, it’ll be comparable to someone with schizophrenia.
This information comes courtesy of a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience. Researchers recruited a total of twenty-four healthy subjects, men and women, ages eighteen to forty. For the initial experiment, they were allowed a regular night’s sleep in the lab. For the follow-up, a week later, they stayed awake all night, after which they were asked about their thoughts and feelings. Also, they underwent a measurement called prepulse inhibition.
According to Nadine Petrovsky, the study’s lead author, “Prepulse inhibition is a standard test to measure the filtering function of the brain.” In the procedure, a loud noise is heard through headphones. The test subject is startled, which is recorded through electrodes on the face. If a smaller noise is emitted before this (i.e., the “prepulse”), the startle response is smaller. “The prepulse inhibition demonstrates an important function of the brain: Filters separate what is important from what is not important and prevent sensory overload,” says Petrovsky.
In the sleepless subjects, the filtering response was significantly reduced. According to Ulrich Ettinger, professor in charge, “There were pronounced attention deficits, such as what typically occurs in the case of schizophrenia. The unselected flood of information led to chaos in the brain.” Subjects also reported being more sensitive to light, colour, and brightness. They also had serious difficulty concentrating.
The take-away here is pretty obvious: sleep deprivation isn’t worth it. Avoid if at all possible.