VSL:SCIENCE // Lose sleep, start lying

According to a new paper by German researchers, a bad night’s sleep can lead to the creation of misleading, false, or invented memories.

Scientists at the University of Lubeck conducted the following, sadistic experiment: They forced people to stay awake for up to 44 hours at a time, then asked them to remember and recite a series of related words. The end result? The insomniacs were much more likely to invent new words than subjects who were allowed to sleep. But the sleep-deprived people didn’t just forget — they fabricated, and were convinced that their fabrications were true. The good news, though, is that there’s a cheap and easy cure for the creation of accidental memories. Subjects who drank a cup of coffee just before taking the false-memory test tended to report memories that correlated more closely to actual events. So the next time you tell a favorite childhood story (or take a test), have an espresso first: It’s one of the few truth serums that actually seem to work.

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