Ron Gerrard, HWS Psychology Department
My paper is based on an article from the text's web site (chapter 9) entitled "Lack of sleep ages body's systems." The basic claim of the article is that sleep deprivation has various harmful effects on the body. The reported effects include decreased ability to metabolize glucose (similar to what occurs in diabetes) and increased levels of cortisol (a stress hormone involved in memory and regulation of blood sugar levels). The article also briefly alludes (in the quote at the bottom of page 1) to unspecified changes in brain and immune functioning with sleep deprivation.
Intuitively, these results make a lot of sense to me. I know that when I'm sleep deprived for any significant amount of time, I begin to feel physically miserable. I also seem to be more vulnerable to colds and other physical ailments. In thinking about it though, most of the times I'm sleep deprived are also periods of psychological stress (such as finals week). To the extent that there are changes in my physical well-being, I'm wondering whether they are due to the sleep deprivation, the stress itself, or some combination of the two.
In principle, a careful experiment should be able to isolate the effects of sleep deprivation by depriving people of sleep in the absence of stress and other such confounding variables. That seems to be what this experiment does, but as I read the article closely, I found myself unsure that the effects it reports are necessarily due to sleep deprivation per se.
I realize that a brief summary article like this does not provide all the details of the experimental methodology, but a couple of things that were reported in the article struck me as curious. The researchers studied physical functioning (cortisol levels, etc.) in men who had a normal night's sleep (eight hours in bed) the first three nights of the study, followed by a period of sleep deprivation (four hours...