Speed of mental processing in the middle of the night

Sleep. 1997 Jun;20(6):399-401. doi: 10.1093/sleep/20.6.399.


This study aimed to determine whether human mental processing actually slows down during the night hours, separately from the previously documented microsleeps, lapses in attention, and general slowing of motor responses. Eighteen healthy young adults were studied during 36 hours of constant wakeful bedrest. Every 2 hours, they performed a logical reasoning task. Items phrased in the negative voice took reliably longer to respond to than items phrased in the positive voice, indicating the need for more mental processing in those items. By subtracting "negative" from "positive" reaction times at each time of day, we were able to plot a circadian rhythm in the time taken for this extra mental processing to be done separately from microsleeps, psychomotor slowing, and inattention. The extra mental processing took longer at night and on the day following sleep loss than it did during the day before the sleep loss, suggesting that human mental processing slows down during the night under sleep deprivation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affect
  • Auditory Perception
  • Circadian Rhythm*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Processes*
  • Reaction Time*
  • Sleep