Slow-wave sleep during a brief nap is related to reduced cognitive deficits during sleep deprivation

Sleep. 2021 Nov 12;44(11):zsab152. doi: 10.1093/sleep/zsab152.


Sleeping for a short period (i.e. napping) may help mitigate impairments in cognitive processing caused by sleep deprivation, but there is limited research on effects of brief naps in particular. Here, we tested the effect of a brief nap opportunity (30- or 60-min) during a period of sleep deprivation on two cognitive processes with broad scope, placekeeping and vigilant attention. In the evening, participants (N = 280) completed a placekeeping task (UNRAVEL) and a vigilant attention task (Psychomotor Vigilance Task [PVT]) and were randomly assigned to either stay awake overnight or sleep at home. Sleep-deprived participants were randomly assigned to receive either no nap opportunity, a 30-min opportunity, or a 60-min opportunity. Participants who napped were set up with polysomnography. The next morning, sleep participants returned, and all participants completed UNRAVEL and the PVT. Sleep deprivation impaired performance on both tasks, but nap opportunity did not reduce the impairment, suggesting that naps longer than those tested may be necessary to cause group differences. However, in participants who napped, more time spent in slow-wave sleep (SWS) was associated with reduced performance deficits on both tasks, effects we interpret in terms of the role of SWS in alleviating sleep pressure and facilitating memory consolidation.

Keywords: naps; placekeeping; polysomnography; sleep deprivation; slow-wave sleep; vigilant attention.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Cognition
  • Humans
  • Psychomotor Performance
  • Sleep
  • Sleep Deprivation* / complications
  • Sleep, Slow-Wave*
  • Wakefulness