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Study Finds Sleep Deprivation Linked to False Confessions

Most people know that sleep deprivation can cause lapses in judgement and cognitive impairment. But false imprisonment? A recent study focused on how sleep deprivation can contribute to innocent people admitting to crimes they haven't committed.

Military and police forces have long used sleep deprivation as an interrogation technique, but the reliability of information obtained through such tactics is under scrutiny.

Imprisonment after sleep-deprived confessions

According to the Innocence Project, false confessions are thought to play a role in a quarter of wrongful convictions in the United States. Take, for instance, the case of 14-year old Crystal Champagne, who was found dead after being raped and strangled In Louisiana. Within days, police elicited a confession from her cousin Damon Thibodeaux, but 15 years later he was exonerated by DNA evidence.

In a case that received a great deal of media attention, Amanda Knox confessed to Italian police that she had murdered her roommate after being interrogated all night.

Why do false confessions stick?

It can be difficult for the average person (and jury member) to understand why an innocent person might admit to something they didn't do. For example, a juror may not consider that the confessor can see it as a temporary way to end the interrogation, confident that they will receive justice in the end.

How was the research conducted?

In the study participants were asked to complete a series of computer tasks over multiple sessions. In the final session the subjects either slept all night or were kept awake. At the conclusion, they were all told that they had performed a function that lost all the data. The sleep deprived ones were 4.5 times as likely to admit guilt.

While it is a far cry from confession to murder or even theft, the study showed how sleep deprivation leads to confusion and errors in judgement. When a suspect in the presence of law enforcement is deprived of rest, the consequences can be life changing.

Accusations of criminal wrongdoing are serious business. Having a reputable defense lawyer assist you in navigating your rights when it comes to law enforcement and the courts can make all the difference.


Wilson, Claire. "Sleep Deprivation Linked to False Confession in Milestone Study." New Scientist. Web. 8 Feb. 2016. <>.

Loftus, Elizabeth F. "Sleep Deprivation and False Confessions." Sleep Deprivation and False Confessions. 30 Dec. 2015. Web. <>.

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