Daytime performance changes were examined during chronic sleep restriction or augmentation and following subsequent recovery sleep. Sixty-six normal volunteers spent either 3 (n = 18), 5 (n= 16), 7 (n = 16), or 9 h (n = 16) daily time in bed (TIB) for 7 days (restriction/augmentation) followed by 3 days with 8 h daily TIB (recovery). In the 3-h group, speed (mean and fastest 10% of responses) on the psychomotor vigilance task (PVT) declined, and PVT lapses (reaction times greater than 500 ms) increased steadily across the 7 days of sleep restriction. In the 7- and 5-h groups speed initially declined, then appeared to stabilize at a reduced level; lapses were increased only in the 5-h group. In the 9-h group, speed and lapses remained at baseline levels. During recovery, PVT speed in the 7- and 5-h groups (and lapses in the 5-h group) remained at the stable, but reduced levels seen during the last days of the experimental phase, with no evidence of recovery. Speed and lapses in the 3-h group recovered rapidly following the first night of recovery sleep; however, recovery was incomplete with speed and lapses stabilizing at a level comparable with the 7- and 5-h groups. Performance in the 9-h group remained at baseline levels during the recovery phase. These results suggest that the brain adapts to chronic sleep restriction. In mild to moderate sleep restriction this adaptation is sufficient to stabilize performance, although at a reduced level. These adaptive changes are hypothesized to restrict brain operational capacity and to persist for several days after normal sleep duration is restored, delaying recovery.