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Prog Brain Res. 2010;185:37-48. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-444-53702-7.00003-8.

Measurement of cognition in studies of sleep deprivation.

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Department of Psychology, Washington State University, Pullman, WA, USA.


Controlled laboratory studies of the effects of sleep deprivation on cognition have the potential to further our understanding of why some complex tasks are more affected by lack of sleep than other tasks. However, apparently simple cognitive tasks reflect multiple cognitive processes at once. Some of the component processes involved in a task may be more affected by sleep deprivation than others. Thus, interpreting measures of overall performance without consideration of the specific task requirements can lead to misleading conclusions. Using examples from studies of attention, working memory and executive functioning, we demonstrate the importance of analysing how different task components contribute to performance and how the nature of the stimulus content can influence outcomes of sleep deprivation studies. Recent developments in cognitive neuropsychology may help sleep researchers conduct more precise tests of fatigue effects on cognition. In turn, studies of sleep and cognition hold promise as a strategy for the development of better general models of how the cognitive system adjusts dynamically to impairments in processing.

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