Habitual short sleep impacts frontal switch mechanism in attention to novelty

Sleep. 2011 Dec 1;34(12):1659-70. doi: 10.5665/sleep.1430.


Study objectives: Reduced time in bed relative to biological sleep need is common. The impact of habitual short sleep on auditory attention has not been studied to date. In the current study, we utilized novelty oddball tasks to evaluate the effect of habitual short sleep on brain function underlying attention control processes measured by the mismatch negativity (MMN, index of pre-attentive stage), P3a (attention-dependent), and P3b (memory-dependent) event related brain potentials (ERPs). An extended time in bed in a separate study was used to evaluate the possible reversal of the impairments of these processes in habitual short sleepers.

Methods: Ten self-defined short sleepers (total sleep time [TST] ≤ 6 h) and 9 normal-sleeping subjects with TST 7-8 h, participated. ERPs were recorded via a 64-channel EEG system. Two test conditions: "ignore" and "attend" were implemented. The ERPs were analyzed and compared between groups on the 2 task conditions and frontal/central/parietal electrodes by 3-factor ANOVA. Sleep diary data were compared between groups by t-test. Sleep was recorded by the Zeo sleep monitoring system for a week in both habitual and extended sleep conditions at home.

Results: The main findings of the present study show that short sleeping individuals had deficiency in activity of the MMN and P3a brain responses over frontal areas compared to normal-sleeping subjects. The P3b amplitude was increased over frontal areas and decreased over parietal with respect to the control group. Extension of time in bed for one week increased TST (from 5.7 h to 7.4 h), and concomitantly MMN amplitude increased from -0.1 μV up to -1.25 μV over frontal areas.

Conclusions: Reduced time in bed is associated with deficiency of the neuronal process associated with change detection, which may recover after one week of sleep extension, whereas attention-dependent neural processes do not normalize after this period of time in habitually short sleeping individuals and may require longer recovery periods.

Keywords: ERPs; Short sleep; attention; memory; sleep extension.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Brain / physiology
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Electroencephalography
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology
  • Exploratory Behavior / physiology
  • Female
  • Frontal Lobe / physiology
  • Frontal Lobe / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Sleep / physiology
  • Sleep Deprivation / physiopathology*
  • Sleep Deprivation / psychology