We’re often told that getting an average of eight hours of sleep can lead to better decision-making and healthier habits, but research from the University of Pennsylvania proves that without enough sleep, individuals who are already under psychological stress can potentially suffer from more significant cognitive impairment in memory and attention than others.

The study, conducted by a team of researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, used a group of subjects to look at the body’s key regulators of gene expression, microRNAs, in order to track responses to sleep deprivation and its problematic effect on cognitive performance.

Over the course of the five-day experiment, the researchers observed 32 healthy adults as they underwent two eight-hour baseline nights of sleep, followed by 39 hours of total sleep deprivation, and then they underwent two “recovery nights,” where they slept for another eight to 10 hours.

After the five-day cycle, the subjects were tested for attention levels, memory, and overall cognitive performance, in addition to having their blood tested to analyze MiRNAs from plasma.

The researchers found that compared to the blood samples taken prior to the experiment, 10 miRNAs showed changes in expression in subjects who experienced the sleep deprivation, and 18 miRNAS showed changes when paired with psychological stress.

The results prove that miRNA’s can, in fact, track responses to sleep deprivation and its effects on brain function, especially when paired with psychological stress — information that can help us understand the detrimental impairments that lack of sleep can cause. The results also explain why some sleep-deprived people tend to experience worse cognitive function than others, which can help us see the scope of the relationship between mental health and sleep deprivation.

Read more about the study here.


  • Rebecca Muller Feintuch

    Senior Editor and Community Manager


    Rebecca Muller Feintuch is the Senior Editor and Community Manager at Thrive. Her previous work experience includes roles in editorial and digital journalism. Rebecca is passionate about storytelling, creating meaningful connections, and prioritizing mental health and self-care. She is a graduate of New York University, where she studied Media, Culture and Communications with a minor in Creative Writing. For her undergraduate thesis, she researched the relationship between women and fitness media consumerism.