Sarah has covered news topics for digital and print publications. She holds a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Nevada.
The expression “dragging your feet” is often used to describe when someone feels tired or resistant to doing something — and a new study shows the turn of phrase may have more truth to it than previously thought.
According to research from MIT and University of Sao Paulo in Brazil, how we walk — also known as our gait — is greatly influenced by the amount of sleep we do or do not get.
The study was conducted by asking volunteers to track their activity over the course of 14 days. By using this information to track when students were asleep or active, researchers were able to track their natural sleep patterns.
On the last day of the two-week period, the group was split into two groups. One group was asked to stay up all night in the team’s sleep lab, while the other was sent home for a regular night’s sleep.
Using a treadmill and metronome to track steps, participants from the different groups were asked to step according to the metronome’s beat. Researchers found that the sleep deprived group made significantly more errors in their steps when compared to the group who was allowed to get a full night’s rest.
While there are several different types of sleep deprivation, it has long been understood that our physical bodies react to a lack of rest. Researchers cited a previous study based around sleep deprivation, in which it was observed that sleep restriction prior to workdays went as far as to impair the participant’s balance control.
According to one of the researchers of the current study, the results show that “gait is not an automatic process, and it can be affected by sleep deprivation.”
Sleep deprivation also leads to accumulating sleep debt, which is the difference between the amount of sleep someone needs and the amount they actually get.
The best way to combat sleep debt is by catching up on sleep over the course of several days, and most importantly, establishing and maintaining consistency in sleep and wake times.