Efficient and regular patterns of nighttime sleep are related to increased vulnerability to microsleeps following a single night of sleep restriction

Chronobiol Int. 2013 Nov;30(9):1187-96. doi: 10.3109/07420528.2013.810222. Epub 2013 Sep 3.


Sleep-deprived people, or those performing extended monotonous tasks, can exhibit brief episodes in which they suspend performance and appear to fall asleep momentarily-behavioral microsleeps ("microsleeps"). In this study, microsleeps were identified using eye video and tracking response during a 20-min continuous tracking task undertaken by 16 healthy volunteers (mean age 24.9 yrs; 8 females, 8 males) in the early afternoon following a normally rested night and a night of restricted sleep (time-in-bed restricted to 4 h). Sessions were 1 wk apart and counterbalanced. Wrist actigraphy, self-reported sleepiness, and sleep quality were also recorded. We hypothesized that high microsleep rates when normally rested or after a night of sleep restriction would be related to poor sleep quality, sleep disturbance, circadian type, irregular sleep patterns, low daily sleep duration, or poor sleep efficiency. We also hypothesized that prior performance on a 10-min psychomotor vigilance task (PVT) (mean reaction time or number of PVT lapses) would be related to the number of microsleeps during the tracking task and that PVT performance could, therefore, be used as a fitness-for-duty indicator. The number of microsleeps during the tracking task increased following sleep restriction (mean 11.4 versus 27.9; p = 0.03). There were no correlations between the number of microsleeps in the normally rested session and any of the actigraphically measured or self-reported sleep measures. However, the number of microsleeps following sleep restriction was correlated with sleep efficiency (r = 0.73, p = 0.001), sleep onset latency (r = -0.57, p = 0.02), and sleep onset time-of-day standard deviation (r = -0.54, p = 0.03) over 11 normally rested nights. There was no correlation between PVT performance and the subsequent number of microsleeps during the tracking task in either session. Attributes usually associated with beneficial nighttime sleep patterns-going to sleep at a similar time each night, falling asleep quickly, and infrequent arousals-were related to greater vulnerability to microsleeps following sleep restriction. There were intercorrelations between all the sleep measures associated with microsleep rate following sleep restriction, indicating that the measures form a pattern of behaviors and are not independently related to microsleep rate. Perhaps some people maintain a regular sleep pattern because they experience sleepiness the following day when their pattern is disrupted. Conversely, people with more variation in their sleep pattern may do so because this does not substantially increase sleepiness the following day. We conclude that people with consistent sleep patterns and efficient sleep may be more prone to microsleeps than other people when their usual regular pattern is disrupted by sleep restriction.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Actigraphy
  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology
  • Circadian Rhythm
  • Eye Movements
  • Fatigue
  • Female
  • Healthy Volunteers
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Psychomotor Performance
  • Rest
  • Sleep / physiology*
  • Sleep Deprivation*
  • Sleep Stages / physiology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Time Factors
  • Wakefulness
  • Work
  • Young Adult