Sleep restriction for the duration of a work week impairs multitasking performance


Marja-Leena Haavisto, Organisational Psychology, Technical Research Centre of Finland, P.O. Box 1000, FI-02044 VTT, Finland. Tel.: +358 40 7056443; fax: +358 20 7225888; e-mail:


It is important to develop shift schedules that minimise the chance for sleep-related human error in safety-critical domains. Experimental data on the effects of sleep restriction (SR) play a key role in this development work. In order to provide such data, we conducted an experiment in which cognitively demanding and long-duration task performance, simulating task performance at work, was measured under SR and following recovery. Twenty healthy male volunteers, aged 19–29 years, participated in the study. Thirteen of them had first two baseline days (8-h sleep opportunity per day), then five SR days (4-h sleep) and finally two recovery days (8-h sleep). Seven controls were allowed to sleep for 8 h each night. On each experimental day, multitask performance was tested in 50-min sessions, physiological sleepiness was evaluated during multitask performance using electroencephalogram (EEG)/electrooculogram (EOG) recordings, and psychomotor vigilance task performance and Karolinska Sleepiness Scale were recorded. Sleep–wake rhythm was monitored throughout the experiment. The multitask performance progressively deteriorated as a result of prolongation of the SR and the time spent on the task. The effect was significant at group level, but individual differences were large: performance was not markedly deteriorated in all participants. Similar changes were observed also in EEG/EOG-defined sleepiness. The recovery process of performance and sleepiness from the SR continued over the two recovery sleep opportunities. In all, our findings emphasise the importance of shift systems that do not restrict sleep for several consecutive days.