Sleep loss can severely impact on the integrity of cognitive functions. This review highlights the recent functional neuroimaging studies on the brain’s response while performing cognitive tasks when deprived of sleep. Among sleep-deprived healthy volunteers, reduced attention, accompanied by lowered parieto-occipital activation, may underlie performance decrements seen in other “higher cognitive domains”. Functional neuroimaging in this setting has increased our understanding of how the brain responds to, and compensates for, sleep loss. Functional neuroimaging may also provide a safe, reproducible and non-invasive means to evaluate the cognitive and neural impact of therapeutic interventions designed to treat sleep disorders and/ or to reduce the negative cognitive impact of sleep loss.
Most adults have experienced sleep deprivation at some stage of their lives, be it in the context of work, illness or play. Sleep deprivation can be both total, taking place over 1 to 2 nights, or chronic partial, as characterised by insufficient restorative sleep over days, months and even years.
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