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Sleep Biol Rhythms. 2017;15(3):217-225. doi: 10.1007/s41105-017-0099-5. Epub 2017 Apr 13.

Effects of sleep deprivation on cognitive and physical performance in university students.

Author information

1
Imperial College School of Medicine, Imperial College London, South Kensington Campus, Sir Alexander Fleming Building, London, SW7 2DD UK.
2
Academic Unit of Sleep and Breathing, National Heart and Lung Institute, Imperial College London, London, UK.
3
NIHR Respiratory Disease Biomedical Research Unit, Sleep and Ventilation, Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Foundation Trust, Sydney Street, London, SW3 6NP UK.
4
Faculty of Medicine, Imperial College London, South Kensington Campus, Sir Alexander Fleming Building, London, SW7 2DD UK.
5
Medical Education Research Unit, Faculty of Medicine, Imperial College London, South Kensington Campus, Sir Alexander Fleming Building, London, SW7 2DD UK.

Abstract

Sleep deprivation is common among university students, and has been associated with poor academic performance and physical dysfunction. However, current literature has a narrow focus in regard to domains tested, this study aimed to investigate the effects of a night of sleep deprivation on cognitive and physical performance in students. A randomized controlled crossover study was carried out with 64 participants [58% male (n = 37); 22 ± 4 years old (mean ± SD)]. Participants were randomized into two conditions: normal sleep or one night sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation was monitored using an online time-stamped questionnaire at 45 min intervals, completed in the participants' homes. The outcomes were cognitive: working memory (Simon game© derivative), executive function (Stroop test); and physical: reaction time (ruler drop testing), lung function (spirometry), rate of perceived exertion, heart rate, and blood pressure during submaximal cardiopulmonary exercise testing. Data were analysed using paired two-tailed T tests and MANOVA. Reaction time and systolic blood pressure post-exercise were significantly increased following sleep deprivation (mean ± SD change: reaction time: 0.15 ± 0.04 s, p = 0.003; systolic BP: 6 ± 17 mmHg, p = 0.012). No significant differences were found in other variables. Reaction time and vascular response to exercise were significantly affected by sleep deprivation in university students, whilst other cognitive and cardiopulmonary measures showed no significant changes. These findings indicate that acute sleep deprivation can have an impact on physical but not cognitive ability in young healthy university students. Further research is needed to identify mechanisms of change and the impact of longer term sleep deprivation in this population.

KEYWORDS:

Acute sleep deprivation; Cognitive; Reaction time; Student; Submaximal exercise

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