Impaired visual processing in patients with insomnia disorder revealed by a dissociation in visual search
Insomnia disorder is associated with both subjective and objective daytime impairments. In particular, cognitive impairments are frequently reported. However, little is known about the effects of this pathology on perceptual processes. In this study we aim at evaluating the effect of insomnia disorder on visual processing by employing a visual search paradigm. Twenty‐three patients with insomnia disorder and 20 healthy age‐ and sex‐matched control subjects participated in the study. After a polysomnographic recording night patients performed a visual search task in which they had to respond to the presence/absence of a target (letter T) embedded into a set of distractors (letters Os, Xs or Ls). Target's salience and distractors’ numerosity were manipulated, while accuracy and reaction times were recorded as dependent variables. The results mainly confirmed the typical effects of a visual search task. An overall delay in performing the task was observed for patients with insomnia disorder. However, distinguishing the reaction times to stimuli containing the target from reaction times to stimuli in which the target was absent, the clinical group differed from controls solely in the condition of target absent. The performance (reaction times) of the subjects correlated with the age in the control group, whereas no correlation between reaction times and age, disease duration and quality of sleep was found in patients with insomnia disorder. These results experimentally demonstrate the presence of a daytime impairment in patients with insomnia disorder revealed by a dissociation in visual search, and are discussed in the light of the hyperarousal concept of insomnia.
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