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Sleep deprivation: Impact on cognitive performance

By Paula Alhola and Päivi Polo-Kantola


Today, prolonged wakefulness is a widespread phenomenon. Nevertheless, in the field of sleep and wakefulness, several unanswered questions remain. Prolonged wakefulness can be due to acute total sleep deprivation (SD) or to chronic partial sleep restriction. Although the latter is more common in everyday life, the effects of total SD have been examined more thoroughly. Both total and partial SD induce adverse changes in cognitive performance. First and foremost, total SD impairs attention and working memory, but it also affects other functions, such as long-term memory and decision-making. Partial SD is found to influence attention, especially vigilance. Studies on its effects on more demanding cognitive functions are lacking. Coping with SD depends on several factors, especially aging and gender. Also interindividual differences in responses are substantial. In addition to coping with SD, recovering from it also deserves attention. Cognitive recovery processes, although insufficiently studied, seem to be more demanding in partial sleep restriction than in total SD

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