[Inhibition and working memory: effect of acute sleep deprivation on a random letter generation task].Can J Exp Psychol. 2003 Dec; 57(4):265-73.CJ
The literature contains inconsistent data on the effects of acute sleep deprivation on the superior cognitive functions. The primary purpose of this study is to determine the effectiveness of inhibition, one of the functions of the working memory executive centre (EC), over an extended, 36-hour waking period. Inhibition is a cognitive mechanism whereby individuals ignore non-relevant information recorded in their working memory. We also tested the effects of a 36-hour period of acute sleep deprivation on simple reaction time. Twelve young, healthy volunteers (M = 21.5 years, sigma = 2.3) performed a random generation task involving letters and a simple reaction time psychomotor test over four sessions held at 10-hour intervals. Each participant was assigned a "constant routine." Participants were kept awake in a prone position within a room whose environment was held strictly constant (light, noise, temperature, meals, etc.). This control procedure provided assurance that any variation in participant performance was solely caused by sleep deprivation. The random generation task, nearly two minutes in length, consisted in verbally producing a sequence of 100 letters in a random fashion (i.e. by inhibiting, for example, alphabetical order) and by keeping to a set rhythm. Our assumption was that capacity for inhibition diminished as the number of hours of sleep deprivation increased. The simple reaction test, 10 minutes in length, involved pressing a button as swiftly as possible to cause a black square to disappear from a screen. In this case our assumption was that acute sleep deprivation alters simple reaction time. Analysis of variance (ANOVA) through repeated measures using the "sessions" factor as an intra-subject variable showed no significant changes in randomization indices of the random generation task, contrary to analysis of average simple reaction times. Participants' reaction times deteriorated over the first two minutes of the test during the night they were deprived of sleep. It would seem that the contradictory results of previous studies of the effects of acute sleep deprivation on the inhibition function would be due to errors in factor identification. In conclusion, the inhibition function, as measured during the performance of a brief task, seems to remain intact during an extended, 36-hour waking period. Simple reaction time assessed by means of a brief psychomotor test is affected during a night of sleep deprivation. The working-memory inhibition executive function shows greater resistance to acute sleep deprivation than does psychomotor reaction time for the performance of short tasks.