Prefrontal neuropsychological effects of sleep deprivation in young adults--a model for healthy aging?

Sleep. 2000 Dec 15;23(8):1067-73.


Neuropsychological testing and brain imaging show that healthy aging leads to a preferential impairment of the prefrontal cortex (PFC). Interestingly, in young adults sleep deprivation (SD) has similar effects. Psychological tasks not so oriented to the PFC are less sensitive both to SD and aging. The PFC is a cortical region working particularly hard during wakefulness, which may make it more vulnerable to "deterioration," whether this is through aging or SD. In these respects SD in young adults may offer a model for aging. No study has directly compared aging with SD. We compared groups comprising (equal sexes): YOUNG (av. 23y), MIDDLE AGED (av. 60y) and OLD (av. 73y). Young were subdivided into SD and non-sleep deprived groups. All participants were carefully screened, were healthy, good sleepers and with a similar educational background. A battery of PFC-oriented, short and straightforward neuropsychological tests was used to compare the effects of 36h of SD in the young group, with findings from the healthy, alert, non-sleep deprived groups. Tests relied on accuracy rather than speed (which took into account the problem of "global slowing" in the older participants), and were administered once (i.e., were novel). Test outcomes were significantly affected by: (1) SD in the young groups, and (2) by age. A non-PFC component of one test was not affected by SD or by age. It was concluded that 36h SD in young adults produces effects on the PFC similar to those found in normal, alert people aged about 60 years. However, it can not be concluded that an aged brain is a sleep-deprived brain.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Memory / physiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Prefrontal Cortex
  • Sleep / physiology*
  • Sleep Deprivation / physiopathology*
  • Sleep Deprivation / psychology*