When Sleep Suffers, So Does Decisiveness

SATURDAY Nov. 21, 2009 -- Sleep-deprived people may put themselves and others at risk when they need to make split-second decisions, U.S. researchers have found.

The study, which included 49 U.S. military cadets, looked at how sleep deprivation affected information-integration, a process that relies heavily on instantaneous, gut-feeling decisions.

"It's important to understand this domain of procedural learning because information-integration -- the fast and accurate strategy -- is critical in situations when soldiers need to make split-second decisions based about whether a potential target is an enemy soldier, a civilian or one of their own," Todd Maddox, a psychology professor at the University of Texas at Austin, said in a university news release.

The ability to make split-second decisions is crucial in a number of other high-pressure professions, including firefighters and police officers, the study authors noted.

The cadets performed information-integration tasks twice -- once when they were well-rested and once while they were sleep-deprived. The results showed that moderate sleep deprivation can cause an overall immediate loss of information-integration thought processes.

Accuracy on the information-integration tasks declined by 2.4 percent (73.1 percent to 70.7 percent) when cadets were sleep-deprived, and improved by 4.3 percent (74 percent to 78.3 percent) when they were well-rested, the researchers found.

The study was published in the November issue of Sleep.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more about sleep.

Posted: November 2009


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