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Lack of sleep will make you slow and slur your speech, but it will also improve your maths, your ability to sort items and your short term memory!

On the nights of Monday 16th, Tuesday 17th and Wednesday 18th March 1998, three separate groups of student volunteers (aged 16 and 17 years) stayed at the college over night without sleeping. They did all the things healthy teenagers do when out for a good time. That is eat lots of food (thanks to our sponsors), watch videos, listen to music, play basketball in the gym, chat and even do some homework!

The lunchtime before they were sleep deprived they were tested to see how their brains normally performed. We were astounded, of course! The next lunchtime our sleepy people were led zombie-like into the testing room once again to perform different versions of the same tests. Click here to find out what our subjects thought about their experiences.

We expected everybody to do badly, after their sleepless night; How wrong we were. Most were better at maths and sorting things out. They were more likely to remember long telephone numbers on first hearing (now that could be handy, couldn't it?).

So our advice to you is to leave your maths homework until you are really tired. When you are wide awake in the day your brain probably has too many things to think about, which interferes with the mathematical process. If you relax your mind it's easy to calculate sums, but if you are too alert, you could be over cautious, which probably interferes with what should be an almost automatic process (some people have been known to calculate what day of the week a particular date occurred instantaneously). Another reason could be that your short term memory expands (see our digit span test), which means you can carry all those digits from the units column to the tens column much more easily.

Sorting out your notes can be easier when you are tired as well. Again, this is probably owing to your relaxed mind suffering less from the intrusive thoughts of a fully conscious mind. You can easily sort items into at least four categories; So, last thing at night, sort those notes into the relevant subject files!

It seems we are saying stay up late every night and sail through college, doesn't it? Well, sorry to disappoint you, but there is a down side as well. If you are tired you should not drive a car. Your reaction times are much slower. You are more likely to be able to stop in time when that kid suddenly steps off the pavement if you are wide awake.

Your typing speed is slower when you are tired. It is better to type up your coursework in the mornings; It will take far less time.

If you are going to give a public speech make sure you are wide awake or else you might end up saying "Lachies and shentalmen, may I shav your ashtensions pleache".

You will be pleased to know that some things are unaffected. You can remember your lines for the college drama production at any time. Your ability to thread a needle and cross-stitch is unaffected by lack of sleep (see the hand-eye co-ordination experiment ). Your ability to visualise where you last saw something is also unaffected (see ' spatial memory ' and ' visual memory ').

Finally, for those who like to play games, you can solve crosswords at anytime (or at least solve anagrams ), and you can enjoy a game of darts !


Comments by subjects
Related previous research
Digit Span
Hand-eye co-ordination
Reaction Time
Spatial Memory
Reciting a poem from memory
Sorting Task
Visual Memory

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