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Sleep. 1997 Feb;20(2):115-23.

Decreased attentional responsivity during sleep deprivation: orienting response latency, amplitude, and habituation.

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Department of Psychology, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge 70803, USA.


Ever increasing societal demands for uninterrupted work are causing unparalleled amounts of sleep deprivation among workers. Sleep deprivation has been linked to safety problems ranging from medical misdiagnosis to industrial and vehicular accidents. Microsleeps (very brief intrusions of sleep into wakefulness) are usually cited as the cause of the performance decrements during sleep deprivation. Changes in a more basic physiological phenomenon, attentional shift, were hypothesized to be additional factors in performance declines. The current study examined the effects of 36 hours of sleep deprivation on the electrodermal-orienting response (OR), a measure of attentional shift or capture. Subjects were 71 male undergraduate students, who were divided into sleep deprivation and control (non-sleep deprivation) groups. The expected negative effects of sleep deprivation on performance were noted in increased reaction times and increased variability in the sleep-deprived group on attention-demanding cognitive tasks. OR latency was found to be significantly delayed after sleep deprivation, OR amplitude was significantly decreased, and habituation of the OR was significantly faster during sleep deprivation. These findings indicate impaired attention, the first revealing slowed shift of attention to novel stimuli, the second indicating decreased attentional allocation to stimuli, and the third revealing more rapid loss of attention to repeated stimuli. These phenomena may be factors in the impaired cognitive performance seen during sleep deprivation.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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