Cognitive Processing

, Volume 17, Issue 2, pp 155–162 | Cite as

Emerging adults’ sleep patterns and attentional capture: the pivotal role of consistency

  • Wythe L. WhitingEmail author
  • Karla Klein Murdock
Research Report


College students face consistent cognitive demands and often get insufficient and/or irregular sleep. The current study investigated associations of sleep duration and sleep variability with attentional performance. Sleep duration variability was expected to moderate the association between duration and cognitive functioning. College students’ (n = 83) natural sleep patterns were recorded via wristband actigraphy across three consecutive nights during an academic term. The association between sleep duration and attentional capture was strongest for those whose sleep was the most consistent across the three nights preceding the attentional task (i.e., low sleep duration variability). For those with low sleep duration variability, less sleep was associated (B = −0.25) with reduced ability to ignore irrelevant cues and redirect attention to target locations. In other words, consistently low sleep duration was associated with compromises in attention. Our results indicate the importance of consistent sleep routines as well as sufficient sleep duration in order to optimize attentional performance in college students.


Emerging adult Attention Sleep duration Sleep variability 



This research was supported by the Washington and Lee University Lenfest Grant Program and the David G. Elmes Term Professorship. Appreciation is expressed to David Pfaff of the Washington and Lee University IQ Center for technological assistance.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical standards

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.


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Copyright information

© Marta Olivetti Belardinelli and Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyWashington and Lee UniversityLexingtonUSA

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