The effects of sleep and sleep deprivation on task-switching performance

J Sleep Res. 2010 Mar;19(1 Pt 1):64-70. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2869.2009.00774.x. Epub 2009 Oct 28.


Neural systems of the prefrontal cortex (PFC) involved in executive functions are particularly vulnerable to sleep deprivation (SD). In this study, we investigated whether SD selectively affects specific components of the executive control processes involved in task-switching performance. Two different tasks are performed in rapid and random succession in this procedure, so that the to-be-executed task may change from one trial to the next (switch trial), or may be repeated (repetition trial). Task-switches are usually slower than task repetitions, giving way to the 'switch cost'. One hundred and eight university students were assigned randomly to the sleep (S) or the SD group. Each of them was tested on a task-switching paradigm before and after an experimental night (S or SD), and after one recovery night. SD impaired both task-switching accuracy and speed. A higher proportion of errors and increased switch costs after SD have been observed, compared to normal sleep. Control analyses on switch and repetition trials showed that the SD group was significantly worse only on the switch trials. The effects of SD are reverted by one night of recovery sleep. It is concluded that the ability to adjust behaviour rapidly and flexibly to changing environmental demands, which relies on the functional integrity of the PFC, is impacted negatively by sleep loss.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Cognition Disorders / diagnosis
  • Cognition Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiopathology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Sleep Deprivation / diagnosis
  • Sleep Deprivation / epidemiology*
  • Sleep Deprivation / physiopathology*
  • Students / statistics & numerical data
  • Universities
  • Young Adult