Effect of the anodal transcranial direct current electrical stimulation on cognition of medical residents with acute sleep deprivation

Sleep Sci. 2022 Jan-Mar;15(Spec 1):89-96. doi: 10.5935/1984-0063.20220007.


Background: Medical residents must sustain acute sleep deprivation, which can lead to nonfatal and fatal consequences in hospitals due to cognitive decline. Anodal transcranial direct current stimulation (a-tDCS) is a safe noninvasive neuromodulation technique that can induce depolarization of neurons. Previous studies in pilots have shown benefits against fatigue increasing wakefulness and cognitive performance. However, the effects of a-tDCS on cognition in acute sleep deprived healthcare workers remains unknown.

Purpose: To evaluate cognitive changes in sleep deprived medical residents after one session of a-tDCS.

Methods: Open clinical test-re-test study including 13 medical residents with acute sleep deprivation. Subjects received 1 session of bifrontal a-tDCS (2mAx20min), anodal over the left dorsolateral prefrontal region. Pre-and-post treatment subjects were tested with Beck anxiety inventory, Beck depression and HVLT tests, Rey´s and Taylor´s figures, Trail Making A/B, Stroop, Aleatory Digit retention test (WAIS), Digits and symbols and MoCA tests. Post-intervention was added the Executive functions and Frontal Lobes Neuropsychological Battery (BANFE2) test and changing the Taylor figure for Reyfigure.

Results: Twelve medical residents were analyzed; 8 men and 4 women, 29.5 (+/-2.2) years mean age. All had a mean of 21.6 (+/-1.3) hours of sleep deprivation. There were no serious adverse events. We found statistically significant difference in Rey´s/Taylor´s figures (p=0.002), Trail Making Test (p=0.005), WAIS IV symbols (p=0.003), Word Stroop (p=0.021). BANFE-2 showed that the main affected area was the orbito-medial prefrontal region.

Conclusion: a-tDCS appears safe and improves working memory, attention, response time and distractors elimination in acute sleep deprived medical residents.

Keywords: Cognitive Remediation; Sleep Deprivation; Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation.