Trait-like vulnerability of higher-order cognition and ability to maintain wakefulness during combined sleep restriction and circadian misalignment.
STUDY OBJECTIVES: Determine stability of individual differences in executive function, cognitive processing speed, selective visual attention, and maintenance of wakefulness during simulated sustained operations with combined sleep restriction and circadian misalignment. METHODS: Twenty healthy adults (eight female), aged 25.7 (±4.2 SD), body mass index (BMI) 22.3 (±2.1) kg/m2 completed an 18-day protocol twice. Participants maintained habitual self-selected 8-hour sleep schedules for 2 weeks at home prior to a 4-day laboratory visit that included one sleep opportunity per day: 8 hours on night 1, 3 hours on night 2, and 3 hours on mornings 3 and 4. After 3 days of unscheduled sleep at home, participants repeated the entire protocol. Stability and task dependency of individual differences in performance were quantified by intra-class correlation coefficients (ICC) and Kendall's Tau, respectively. RESULTS: Performance on Stroop, Visual Search, and the Maintenance of Wakefulness Test were highly consistent within individuals during combined sleep restriction and circadian misalignment. Individual differences were trait-like as indicated by ICCs (0.54-0.96) classified according to standard criteria as moderate to almost perfect. Individual differences on other performance tasks commonly reported in sleep studies showed fair to almost perfect ICCs (0.22-0.94). Kendall's rank correlations showed that individual vulnerability to sleep restriction and circadian misalignment varied by task and by metric within a task. CONCLUSIONS: Consistent vulnerability of higher-order cognition and maintenance of wakefulness to combined sleep restriction and circadian misalignment has implications for the development of precision countermeasure strategies for workers performing safety-critical tasks, e.g. military, police, health care workers and emergency responders.