Investigating systematic individual differences in sleep-deprived performance on a high-fidelity flight simulator
Laboratory research has revealed considerable systematic variability in the degree to which individuals’ alertness and performance are affected by sleep deprivation. However, little is known about whether or not different populations exhibit similar levels of individual variability. In the present study, we examined individual variability in performance impairment due to sleep loss in a highly select population of military jet pilots. Ten active-duty F-117 pilots were deprived of sleep for 38 h and studied repeatedly in a high-fidelity flight simulator. Data were analyzed with a mixed-model ANOVA to quantify individual variability. Statistically significant, systematic individual differences in the effects of sleep deprivation were observed, even when baseline differences were accounted for. The findings suggest that highly select populations may exhibit individual differences in vulnerability to performance impairment from sleep loss just as the general population does. Thus, the scientific and operational communities’ reliance on group data as opposed to individual data may entail substantial misestimation of the impact of job-related stressors on safety and performance.