A systematic review of sleep deprivation and neurobehavioral function in young adults

Appl Nurs Res. 2022 Feb;63:151552. doi: 10.1016/j.apnr.2021.151552. Epub 2021 Dec 12.


Aim: To examine the effect of sleep deprivation (total and partial) on neurobehavioral function compared to a healthy sleep opportunity (7-9 h) in young adults 18-30 years.

Background: More than one-third of young adults are sleep deprived, which negatively affects a range of neurobehavioral functions, including psychomotor vigilance performance (cognitive), affect, and daytime sleepiness.

Methods: A systematic review of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) on sleep deprivation and neurobehavioral function. Multiple electronic databases (Cochrane Central Registry of Controlled Trials [CENTRAL], PubMed, PsycINFO, CINAHL, and Web of Science) were searched for relevant RCTs published in English from the establishment of each database to December 31, 2020.

Results: Nineteen RCTs were selected (N = 766, mean age = 23.7 ± 3.1 years; 44.8% female). Seven were between-person (5 were parallel-group designs and 2 had multiple arms), and 12 were within-person designs (9 were cross over and 3 used a Latin square approach). Total sleep deprivation had the strongest detrimental effect on psychomotor vigilance performance, with the largest effects on vigilance tasks in young adults in the included studies.

Conclusion: Acute sleep deprivation degrades multiple dimensions of neurobehavioral function including psychomotor vigilance performance, affect, and daytime sleepiness in young adults. The effect of chronic sleep deprivation on the developing brain and associated neurobehavioral functions in young adults remains unclear.

Keywords: Sleep; Sleep deprivation; Systematic review; Vigilance; Young adults.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Psychomotor Performance
  • Sleep Deprivation* / psychology
  • Sleep*
  • Wakefulness
  • Young Adult