Effect of sleep deprivation on tolerance of prolonged exercise

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Summary

Acute loss of sleep produces few apparent physiological effects at rest. Nevertheless, many anecdotes suggest that adequate sleep is essential for optimum endurance athletic performance. To investigate this question, heavy exercise performance after 36 h without sleep was compared with that after normal sleep in eight subjects. During prolonged treadmill walking at about 80% of the $\dot V_{O_2 } $ max, sleep loss reduced work time to exhaustion by an average of 11% (p=0.05). This decrease occurred despite doubling monetary incentives for subjects during work after sleeplessness. Subjects appeared to fall into “resistant” and “susceptible” categories: four showed less than a 5% change in performance after sleep loss, while four others showed decrements in exercise tolerance ranging from 15 to 40%. During the walk, sleep loss resulted in significantly greater perceived exertion (p<0.05), even though exercise heart rate and metabolic rate ( $\dot V_{O_2 } $ and $\dot V_{CO_2 } $ ) were unchanged. Minute ventilation was significantly elevated during exercise after sleep loss (p<0.05). Sleep loss failed to alter the continuous slow rises in $\dot V_E $ E and heart rate that occurred as work was prolonged. These findings suggest that the psychological effects of acute sleep loss may contribute to decreased tolerance of prolonged heavy exercise.

Supported in part by Public Health Service grant PHS S07 RR 5371, and by Grant DAMD-17-81-C-1023 from the U.S. Army