Background: Fatigue due to sleep restriction places individuals at elevated risk for accidents, degraded health, and impaired physical and mental performance. Early detection of fatigue-related performance decrements is an important component of injury prevention and can help to ensure optimal performance and mission readiness. This study used a predictive visual tracking task and a computer-based measure of attention to characterize fatigue-related attention decrements in healthy Army personnel during acute sleep deprivation.
Methods: Serving as subjects in this laboratory-based study were 87 male and female service members between the ages of 18 and 50 with no history of brain injury with loss of consciousness, substance abuse, or significant psychiatric or neurologic diagnoses. Subjects underwent 26 h of sleep deprivation, during which eye movement measures from a continuous circular visual tracking task and attention measures (reaction time, accuracy) from the Attention Network Test (ANT) were collected at baseline, 20 h awake, and between 24 to 26 h awake.
Results: Increases in the variability of gaze positional errors (46-47%), as well as reaction time-based ANT measures (9-65%), were observed across 26 h of sleep deprivation. Accuracy of ANT responses declined across this same period (11%).
Discussion: Performance measures of predictive visual tracking accurately reflect impaired attention due to acute sleep deprivation and provide a promising approach for assessing readiness in personnel serving in diverse occupational areas, including flight and ground support crews.