Moderate sleep deprivation produces impairments in cognitive and motor performance equivalent to legally prescribed levels of alcohol intoxication

Occup Environ Med. 2000 Oct;57(10):649-55. doi: 10.1136/oem.57.10.649.


Objectives: To compare the relative effects on performance of sleep deprivation and alcohol.

Methods: Performance effects were studied in the same subjects over a period of 28 hours of sleep deprivation and after measured doses of alcohol up to about 0.1% blood alcohol concentration (BAC). There were 39 subjects, 30 employees from the transport industry and nine from the army.

Results: After 17-19 hours without sleep, corresponding to 2230 and 0100, performance on some tests was equivalent or worse than that at a BAC of 0.05%. Response speeds were up to 50% slower for some tests and accuracy measures were significantly poorer than at this level of alcohol. After longer periods without sleep, performance reached levels equivalent to the maximum alcohol dose given to subjects (BAC of 0. 1%).

Conclusions: These findings reinforce the evidence that the fatigue of sleep deprivation is an important factor likely to compromise performance of speed and accuracy of the kind needed for safety on the road and in other industrial settings.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alcohol Drinking / adverse effects
  • Central Nervous System Depressants / blood
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology*
  • Cognition Disorders / physiopathology
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Ethanol / blood
  • Fatigue / complications
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory Disorders / etiology
  • Memory Disorders / physiopathology
  • Middle Aged
  • Motor Skills / physiology
  • Psychomotor Disorders / etiology*
  • Psychomotor Disorders / physiopathology
  • Reaction Time
  • Sleep Deprivation / complications*
  • Sleep Deprivation / physiopathology


  • Central Nervous System Depressants
  • Ethanol