The validity of psychomotor vigilance tasks of less than 10-minute duration

Abstract

The 10-min psychomotor vigilance task (PVT) has often been used to assess the impact of sleep loss on performance. Due to time constraints, however, regular testing may not be practical in field studies. The aim of the present study was to examine the suitability of tests shorter than 10 min. in duration. Changes in performance across a night of sustained wakefulness were compared during a standard 10-min PVT, the first 5 min of the PVT, and the first 2 min of the PVT. Four performance metrics were assessed: (1) mean reaction time (RT), (2) fastest 10% of RT, (3) lapse percentage, and (4) slowest 10% of RT. Performance during the 10-min PVT significantly deteriorated with increasing wakefulness for all metrics. Performance during the first 5 min and the first 2 min of the PVT deteriorated in a manner similar to that observed for the whole 10-min task, with all metrics except lapse percentage displaying significant impairment across the night. However, the shorter the task sampling time, the less sensitive the test is to sleepiness. Nevertheless, the 5-min PVT may provide a viable alternative to the 10-min PVT for some performance metrics.