Sleep deprivation impacts how you walk finds study

If you ever tried to go to work or school after sleeping only a few hours the night before and had a hard time walking around, there's a reason for that. A new study from MIT has been published showing that sleep deprivation can impact how you walk. According to the MIT study, making up for lost sleep can remedy fatigue-induced clumsiness, even if it's only a few extra hours of sleep on the weekend.

MIT performed the study in collaboration with the University of São Paulo in Brazil. They found how well we can control our stride, also known as gait, is impacted by their lack of sleep. In their experiment, researchers used student volunteers and found that the less sleep students got, the less control they had when walking on a treadmill. Notably, the experiment found students who were up all night studying before a test had an even more significant problem controlling their gait.

Test subjects who generally slept a less than ideal amount of time during the week but slept in on the weekends performed better in gait testing than others who didn't sleep in. MIT researcher Hermano Krebs says the study shows compensating for lack of sleep is an important strategy for those who are chronically sleep-deprived. By regularly sleeping extra hours, these people could improve control of their gait while walking.

Scientists previously believed that walking was entirely automatic with little conscious control. Experimentation with animals using a treadmill has shown that walking appeared to be automatic, governed by reflexive spinal activity rather than cognitive processes. However, the new experiment shows that in humans, walking involves more processes than previously believed.

Krebs and his team members studied gait control and the mechanics of walking to help develop assistive robotics for humans who have suffered a stroke or are dealing with other conditions that limit their ability to walk and motor function in general. The team used students from São Paulo walking on treadmills while matching their step with a metronome to find that errors in matching their step to the metronome were higher in those with acute sleep deprivation.