Adverse effects of 24 hours of sleep deprivation on cognition and stress hormones

J Clin Neurol. 2012 Jun;8(2):146-50. doi: 10.3988/jcn.2012.8.2.146. Epub 2012 Jun 29.


Background and purpose: The present study was designed to investigate whether 24 h of SD negatively affects the attention and working memory and increases the serum concentrations of stress hormones, glucose, and inflammatory markers.

Methods: The acute effects of sleep deprivation (SD) on cognition and the stress hormones were evaluated in six healthy volunteers (all men, age 23-27 years). All were good sleepers, had no history of medical or neuropsychiatric diseases, and were not taking any kind of medication. All of the volunteers were subjected to the Continuous Performance Test (CPT) for attention and working memory of cognition and blood tests both before and after 24 h of SD. Electroencephalographic monitoring was performed during the study to confirm the wakefulness of the subjects.

Results: SD significantly elevated the serum concentrations of stress hormones (cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine), but serum levels of glucose and inflammatory markers were not changed compared to baseline. For easier steps of the CPT the subjects performed well in giving correct responses after SD; the correct response scores decreased only at the most difficult step of the CPT. However, the subjects performed consistently poor for the error responses at all steps after SD. There was no correlation between the CPT scores and stress hormone levels.

Conclusions: The 24 h of SD significantly heightened the levels of stress hormones and lowered attention and working memory. The acute SD condition seems to render the subject more susceptible to making errors.

Keywords: attention; sleep deprivation; stress hormone; working memory.