Executive functions and the ability to sustain vigilance during sleep loss

William D.Scott Killgore, Nancy L. Grugle, Rebecca M. Reichardt, Desiree B. Killgore, Thomas J. Balkin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Scopus citations


Introduction: There is considerable individual variability in the ability to sustain performance during sleep loss. Preliminary evidence suggests that individuals with higher trait-like activation/functioning of the prefrontal cortex may be less vulnerable to fatigue. Methods: We tested this hypothesis in a sample of 54 healthy volunteers who were assessed bihourly on a variant of the Psychomotor Vigilance Test during 41 h of sleep deprivation. A subset of these subjects, representing the top and bottom 25% of the sample based on their ability to sustain vigilance performance during sleep deprivation, were compared with respect to baseline neurocognitive abilities. Results: The sleep deprivation Resistant group (N = 13) scored significantly higher than the sleep deprivation Vulnerable (N = 13) group on all three baseline tasks assessing prefrontal executive function abilities (letter fluency, Stroop Color-Word test, Color Trails Form 2), whereas no differences were found on non-executive function tasks. Similarly, groups showed no differences on demographic variables including age, education, hand preference, morningness-eveningness preference, global intellectual ability, or pre-study sleep history. Discussion: Findings are consistent with the hypothesis that greater prefrontal/executive functioning may be protective against the adverse effects of sleep deprivation and suggest that baseline executive function testing may prove useful for prediction of resilience during sleep loss.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)81-87
Number of pages7
JournalAviation Space and Environmental Medicine
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2009


  • Executive function
  • Individual differences
  • PVT
  • Prefrontal cortex
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Vigilance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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