Cognitive Performance, Sleepiness, and Mood in Partially Sleep Deprived Adolescents: The Need for Sleep Study

Sleep. 2016 Mar 1;39(3):687-98. doi: 10.5665/sleep.5552.


Study objectives: To investigate the effects of sleep restriction (7 nights of 5 h time in bed [TIB]) on cognitive performance, subjective sleepiness, and mood in adolescents.

Methods: A parallel-group design was adopted in the Need for Sleep Study. Fifty-six healthy adolescents (25 males, age = 15-19 y) who studied in top high schools and were not habitual short sleepers were randomly assigned to Sleep Restriction (SR) or Control groups. Participants underwent a 2-w protocol consisting of 3 baseline nights (TIB = 9 h), 7 nights of sleep opportunity manipulation (TIB = 5 h for the SR and 9 h for the control groups), and 3 nights of recovery sleep (TIB = 9 h) at a boarding school. A cognitive test battery was administered three times each day.

Results: During the manipulation period, the SR group demonstrated incremental deterioration in sustained attention, working memory and executive function, increase in subjective sleepiness, and decrease in positive mood. Subjective sleepiness and sustained attention did not return to baseline levels even after 2 recovery nights. In contrast, the control group maintained baseline levels of cognitive performance, subjective sleepiness, and mood throughout the study. Incremental improvement in speed of processing, as a result of repeated testing and learning, was observed in the control group but was attenuated in the sleep-restricted participants, who, despite two recovery sleep episodes, continued to perform worse than the control participants.

Conclusions: A week of partial sleep deprivation impairs a wide range of cognitive functions, subjective alertness, and mood even in high-performing high school adolescents. Some measures do not recover fully even after 2 nights of recovery sleep.

Commentary: A commentary on this article appears in this issue on page 497.

Keywords: adolescents; cognitive performance; mood; partial sleep deprivation; sleepiness.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Affect / physiology*
  • Attention / physiology
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Executive Function / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology
  • Polysomnography
  • Sleep Deprivation / physiopathology*
  • Sleep Stages / physiology*