Is your walk off? Maybe it’s lack of sleep

We’re all stressed, making it difficult to maintain a schedule for just about everything—including sleep. A new study finds that sleep, or the lack thereof, influences the way we walk or carry out activities that are assumed to be less mentally taxing.

Researchers at MIT and the University of São Paulo in Brazil, reports that walking, specifically, how well we can control our stride, or gait, can indeed be affected by lack of sleep. In experiments with student volunteers, the team found that the less sleep students got, the less control they had when walking during a treadmill test. With all-nighters, gait control tanked.

Researchers found that for the sleep deprived, building in regular sleep compensation (aka naps), improves control over their gait. The team showed that walking is slightly more involved than once thought. In their new study, the team enlisted students from the University of São Paulo to take part in an experiment focused on the effects of sleep deprivation on gait control.

The students were each given a watch to track their activity over 14 days. This information 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. 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.

On the evening before the 14th day, one group of students stayed awake all night in the team’s sleep lab. This group was designated the Sleep Acute Deprivation group. On the morning of the 14th day, students went to the lab to perform a walking test, walking on a treadmill as researchers played a 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.

Comparing students who did not pull an all-nighter prior to the test, the researchers found an unexpected difference: The students who did slightly better were those who compensated and got slightly more sleep on the weekends, even when they performed the test at the end of the week.

Original Release: Eureka Alert

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