The impact of sleep loss on sustained and transient attention: an EEG study


Sleep is one of our most important physiological functions that maintains physical and mental health. Two studies examined whether discrete areas of attention are equally affected by sleep loss. This was achieved using a repeated-measures within-subjects design, with two contrasting conditions: normal sleep and partial sleep restriction of 5-h. Study 1 compared performance on a sustained attention task (Psychomotor Vigilance task; PVT) with performance on a transient attention task (Attentional Blink; AB). PVT performance, but not performance on the AB task, was impaired after sleep restriction. Study 2 sought to determine the neural underpinnings of the phenomenon, using electroencephalogram (EEG) frequency analysis, which measured activity during the brief eyes-closed resting state before the tasks. AB performance was unaffected by sleep restriction, despite clearly observable changes in brain activity. EEG results showed a significant reduction in resting state alpha oscillations that was most prominent centrally in the right hemisphere. Changes in individual alpha and delta power were also found to be related to changes in subjective sleepiness and PVT performance. Results likely reflect different levels of impairment in specific forms of attention following sleep loss.