Sleep plays a vital role in keeping us healthy. According to a new study, the lack of sleep can lead to difficulty in walking along with control over stride or gait.
In experiments with student volunteers, the researchers at MIT and the University of Sao Paulo Brazil have found that “the less sleep students got, the less control they had while walking on a treadmill.”
For students who pulled all-nighters before the test, their gait control was reduced even further. All students were tested for their walking abilities on a treadmill.
According to the study report, “For those who didn’t stay up all night before the test, but who generally had less-than-ideal sleep during the week, those who slept in on weekends performed better than those who didn’t.”
Dr. Hermano Krebs, a principal research scientist in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering said, “Scientifically, it wasn’t clear that almost automatic activities like walking would be influenced by lack of sleep.”
“We also find that compensating for sleep could be an important strategy. For instance, for those who are chronically sleep-deprived, like shift workers, clinicians, and some military personnel, if they build in regular sleep compensation, they might have better control over their gait,” Dr. Krebs added.
Dr. Krebs and his co-authors, including lead author Prof. Arturo Forner-Cordero of the University of Sao Paulo, have published the study in the journal ‘Scientific Reports.’
The students were each given a watch to track their activity over 14 days. This data gave researchers an idea of when and how long students were sleeping and active each day.
The students were given no instruction on how much to sleep, so that the researchers could record their natural sleep patterns. The study said, “On average, each student slept about six hours per day, although some students compensated, catching up on sleep over the two weekends during the 14-day period.”
One group of students stayed awake all night in the team’s sleep lab the night before the 14th day. This group was designated the Sleep Acute Deprivation group or SAD. On the 14th day, all of the students went to the lab to take a walking test.
Each student walked on a treadmill set at the same speed, as researchers played metronome. The students were asked to keep step with the beat, as the researchers slowly and subtly raised and lowered the metronome’s speed, without telling the students they were doing so. Cameras captured the students’ walking, and specifically, the moment their heel struck the treadmill, compared with the beat of the metronome, according to the reports.
“They had to synchronize their heel strike to the beat, and we found the errors were larger in people with acute sleep deprivation. They were off the rhythm, they missed beeps, and were performing in general, worse,” Prof. Forner-Cordero says.
“The results show that gait is not an automatic process, and that it can be affected by sleep deprivation. They also suggest strategies for mitigating the effects of sleep deprivation. Ideally, everyone should sleep eight hours a night. But if we can’t, then we should compensate as much and as regularly as possible,” Dr. Krebs concluded.