Sleep Loss and Temporal Memory

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Historical evidence suggests that sleep deprivation affects temporal memory, but this has not been studied systematically. We explored the effects of 36 hr of sleep deprivation on a neuropsychological test of temporal memory. To promote optimal performance, the test was short, novel, and interesting, and caffeine was used to reduce ''sleepiness''. A total of 40 young adults were randomized into four groups: control + caffeine (Cc), control + placebo (Cp), sleep deprived + caffeine (SDc), and sleep deprived + placebo (SDp). Controls slept normally. Caffeine (350 mg) or placebo were given just prior to testing. The task comprised colour photographs of unknown faces and had two components: recognition memory (distinction between previously presented and novel faces), and recency discrimination (temporal memory), when a previously shown face was presented. An interpolated task, self-ordered pointing, acted as a distraction. Caffeine had no effects within control conditions, but significantly reduced subjective sleepiness in SDc. Recognition was unaffected by sleep deprivation, whereas for recency, sleep deprivation groups scored significantly lower than controls. There was no significant improvement of recency with caffeine in the SDc group. Both sleep deprivation groups had poorer insight into their performance with recency. Self-ordered pointing remained unchanged. In conclusion, sleep deprivation impairs temporal memory (i.e. recency) despite other conditions promoting optimal performance.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: February 1, 2000

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