Vigilance: discussion of related concepts and proposal for a definition

Sleep Med. 2021 Jul;83:175-181. doi: 10.1016/j.sleep.2021.04.038. Epub 2021 May 4.


We reviewed current definitions of vigilance to propose a definition, applicable in sleep medicine. As previous definitions contained terms such as attention, alertness, and arousal, we addressed these concepts too. We defined alertness as a quantitative measure of the mind state governing sensitivity to stimuli. Arousal comprises a stimulus-induced upward change in alertness, irrespective of the subsequent duration of the increased level of alertness. Vigilance is defined as the capability to be sensitive to potential changes in one's environment, ie the capability to reach a level of alertness above a threshold for a certain period of time rather than the state of alertness itself. It has quantitative and temporal dimensions. Attention adds direction towards a stimulus to alertness, requiring cognitive control: it involves being prepared to process stimuli coming from an expected direction. Sustained attention corresponds to a state in which some level of attention is purposefully maintained, adding a time factor to the definition of attention. Vigilance differs from sustained attention in that the latter in addition implies a direction to which attention is cognitively directed as well as a specification of duration. Attempts to measure vigilance, however, are often in fact measurements of sustained attention.

Keywords: Alertness; Arousal; Attention; Narcolepsy; Sustained attention; Vigilance.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Arousal*
  • Attention
  • Humans
  • Reaction Time
  • Time Factors
  • Wakefulness*