Chronic sleep curtailment, even without extended (>16-h) wakefulness, degrades human vigilance performance

Andrew W. McHill, Joseph T. Hull, Wei Wang, Charles A. Czeisler, Elizabeth B. Klerman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


Millions of individuals routinely remain awake for more than 18 h daily, which causes performance decrements. It is unknown if these functional impairments are the result of that extended wakefulness or from the associated shortened sleep durations. We therefore examined changes in objective reaction time performance and subjective alertness in a 32-d inpatient protocol in which participants were scheduled to wakefulness durations below 16 h while on a 20-h “day,” with randomization into standard sleep:wake ratio (1:2) or chronic sleep restriction (CSR) ratio (1:3.3) conditions. This protocol allowed determination of the contribution of sleep deficiency independent of extended wakefulness, since individual episodes of wakefulness in the CSR condition were only 15.33 h in duration (less than the usual 16 h of wakefulness in a 24-h day) and sleep episodes were 4.67 h in duration each cycle. We found that chronic short sleep duration, even without extended wakefulness, doubled neurobehavioral reaction time performance and increased lapses of attention fivefold, yet did not uniformly decrease self-reported alertness. Further, these impairments in neurobehavioral performance were worsened during the circadian night and were not recovered during the circadian day, indicating that the deleterious effect from the homeostatic buildup of CSR is expressed even during the circadian promotion of daytime arousal. These findings reveal a fundamental aspect of human biology: Chronic insufficient sleep duration equivalent to 5.6 h of sleep opportunity per 24 h impairs neurobehavioral performance and self-assessment of alertness, even without extended wakefulness.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6070-6075
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number23
StatePublished - Jun 5 2018


  • Alertness
  • Circadian
  • Forced desynchrony
  • Insufficient sleep
  • Sleepiness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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