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Sleep Deprivation, Not Just Bad For People, But For Criminal Investigations Too

River to River, hosted by Ben Kieffer

A new study from Iowa State University finds a lack of sleep limits the information a person will offer during a police investigation.

Sleep deprivation can have tremendous impacts on our health and well-being. But it also has an impact on our justice system.

On this episode of River to River, host Ben Kieffer speaks with Zlatan Krizan, an Iowa State University psychology professor who studies how sleep impacts behavior. According to his team's new work, sleep-deprived people provide seven percent less information about past criminal activity. He said this evidence butts against the popular thought a tired suspect might be more pliable to interrogation.

"The typical person, I think, has the idea that that's kind of how it works. And when somebody is not being forthcoming, you need to kind of resort to coercive or very manipulative tactics, either to sort of break them or to trick them. But if you actually talk with professional investigators, that's not really how you get very good information," he said.

Later in the hour, we hear from Kimberly Fenn of Michigan State University about her work looking at how 50 percent of instances of false confessions resulted from more than 12-hour interrogations and the trouble with deriving information for an investigation from an exhausted subject.

"Your brain is just in a vastly different state when you're sleep-deprived than when you're fully rested," Fenn said. "In general, you see an overall reduction in neural activity. And that's not a good thing. You want your brain to be operating as well as it can."


  • Zlatan Krizan, professor of psychology at Iowa State University
  • Kimberly Fenn, associate professor of psychology at Michigan State University
Ben Kieffer is the host of IPR's River to River
Zachary Oren Smith is a reporter covering Eastern Iowa