12. The Sleep Deprivation Authority
Name: William “Scott” Killgore
Title: Director of the Social, Cognitive, and Affective Neuroscience Lab in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Arizona
Why they're interesting: Figuring out how skipping sleep changes your perceptions, thought processes and behavior
Why does sleep deprivation leave one person depressed but another person giggly? What happens to our ability to make decisions, evaluate risk and control our emotions when we don’t sleep? These are some of the questions at the center of Scott Killgore’s research.
Killgore, a neuropsychologist who served in the military for 15 years, is especially focused on mental health and performance in military personnel and combat veterans, for whom sleep deprivation is an institutionalized scourge. Being in the military means performing physically and mentally demanding tasks on little shuteye. So Killgore has studied coffee and other stimulants as a replacement for sleep. And, no, a double espresso isn't a substitute for a full night's rest.
“Sleep deprivation can impair many aspects of higher cognition,” said Killgore, “And it appears that caffeine “wakes up” some, but not all, subtle aspects of cognitive performance, such as some kinds of emotional judgment and decision making. Thus, you may feel awake, alert, and responsive, but still be making poor decisions — a very bad combination. The only thing that seems to restore these higher-level capacities is sleep.”
Killgore used to be a “total night owl." Over the years, however, he's shifted his circadian pattern and become more of a morning person. But it's not as though his brain started working best in the AM just because he keeps earlier hours. “Cognitively, I still find that my creative writing juices are at their best in the early evening just about the time I am expected home for dinner,” Killgore said. “Some things may never change.”