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Exp Psychol. 2012;59(3):115-23. doi: 10.1027/1618-3169/a000133.

Twenty-four hours of total sleep deprivation selectively impairs attentional networks.

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Department of Psychology Gaetano Kanizsa, University of Trieste, Italy.


Performance decrements after sleep loss have been extensively studied and are usually attributed to generic attentional deficits. This claim, however, is based on the view of attention as a unitary construct, despite evidence that it should be considered a multidimensional cognitive ability. The aim of the present study was to evaluate the impact of one night of sleep deprivation on the efficiency of three attentional networks, defined by Posner and Raichle (1994) in anatomical and functional terms, as alerting, orienting, and executive control. Thirty participants performed the Attention Network Test at 9:00 a.m. following two different sleep conditions: baseline (a normal night of sleep) and deprivation (24 hrs of wakefulness). Results showed an overall slowing in reaction times and a significant decrease in accuracy after sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation selectively affected the three attentional networks, given that only executive control efficacy significantly decreased after sleep deprivation. By contrast, phasic alerting and orienting showed no differences in the two sleep conditions. Thus, performance deficits following sleep deprivation do not reflect global attentional deficits.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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