Frontal Lobe Function, Sleep Loss and Fragmented Sleep

Sleep Med Rev. 2001 Dec;5(6):463-475. doi: 10.1053/smrv.2001.0203.


Recent experimental studies involving total sleep loss, sleep reduction and clinically related sleep fragmentation report impaired performance on tasks of frontal lobe or executive function, including measures of verbal fluency, creativity and planning skills. Severity of sleep disturbance in obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome (OSAS) is correlated with level of executive impairment, with some residual impairment despite treatment (continuous positive airway pressure - CPAP). Executive impairment appears to be more closely related to hypoxaemic events rather than daytime sleepiness. Studies of electroencephalographic (EEG) changes throughout the course of sleep and following sleep deprivation as well as functional neuroimaging and psychophysiological changes (event-related potentials - ERPs) following sleep deprivation provide further indication of the relative importance of the frontal regions of the brain to sleep. However, neurocognitive studies present many inconsistencies, task classification is often ambiguous and, in the absence of any unifying explanation at the level of cognitive mechanisms, the overall picture is one of a disparate range of impairment following sleep loss and sleep fragmentation. Poorly defined concepts of frontal lobe function, executive function, memory and attention, using tasks largely developed with more severe deficit levels in mind, create further difficulties in interpreting current findings.