Sleep deprivation hinders error detection and correction, in addition to impairing reaction time and response accuracy, according to a study in the June 1 issue of the journal Sleep.
Results show that one night of complete sleep deprivation impairs the ability to detect and correct errors, resulting in an inability to avoid making even more mistakes. The study also shows that sleep deprivation leads to responses that are slower, more variable, and less accurate than decisions made after a normal night of sleep.
Sleep deprivation is often overlooked for the role it plays in the occurrence of performance errors, according to background information in the article. These human errors caused by impaired cognitive functions after long periods without sleep have resulted in catastrophic accidents, such as the Exxon Valdez oil spill.
Ling-Ling Tsai, PhD of the National Chung-Cheng University in Taiwan, and colleagues report that the impaired error monitoring that is caused by sleep deprivation can have disastrous consequences when critical mistakes are not corrected.
“Many tragic accidents involved in human errors are related not to one single error but a series of erroneous responses,” says Dr. Tsai. “One single error followed by corrections may not make it a big deal, but one single error followed by more errors leads to its own significant consequences. One night of sleep deprivation facilitates the occurrence of the latter.”
The study involved 16 undergraduate students between 18 and 23 years of age. They performed a modified Eriksen flanker task test on a computer at 10 a.m. on the morning after a night of sleep deprivation, as well as on the morning after a night of normal sleep. A one-week interval separated the two tests.
While taking the tests, an electroencephalogram (EEG) recording monitored their brain waves. Changes in the EEG readings after a night of sleep deprivation were consistent with reductions in error-correcting actions during the task test.
This study was supported by a Graduate Research Scholarship from the National Chung-Cheng University and Buddhist Dalin Tzu Chi General Hospital.
The journal Sleep is the official publication of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies, LLC, a joint venture of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society. It is a peer-reviewed research and clinical journal addressing sleep, circadian rhythms, and the diagnosis and treatment of the broad spectrum of sleep disorders.