Alerting, orienting and executive control: the effects of sleep deprivation on attentional networks

Abstract

Sleep deprivation alters attentional functions like vigilance or tonic alerting (i.e., sustaining an alert state over a period of time). However, the effects of sleep loss on both orienting and executive control are still not clear, and no study has assessed whether sleep deprivation might affect the relationships among these three attentional systems. In order to investigate the efficiency of the three attentional networks—alerting, orienting and executive control—within a single task, we used the Attention Network Test (ANT). Eighteen right-handed male participants took part in the experiment, which took place on two consecutive days. On the first day, each participant performed a 20 min training session of the ANT. On the second day, participants remained awake for 24 h during which time the ANT was performed once at 5:00 p.m. and once at 4:00 a.m. Results showed an overall slowing of reaction times in the nocturnal session, indicating a strong decrease in vigilance. Furthermore, sleep deprivation did affect attentional orienting and executive control. Results are consistent with the hypothesis that the tonic component of alerting interacts with both attentional orienting and executive functions.

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Acknowledgments

We would like to thank Franco Amodeo for English support, the research participants who volunteered in this study, and Carlo Marzi and other three anonymous reviewers for providing constructive comments that have improved the quality of the paper. This research was supported by the grants “Ricerca di Ateneo Federato AST 2007—prot. C26F07S5KC”—“Sapienza”—Università di Roma and Spanish Ministry of Science and Education: PSI2008-03595PSIC.

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Correspondence to Maria Casagrande.

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Martella, D., Casagrande, M. & Lupiáñez, J. Alerting, orienting and executive control: the effects of sleep deprivation on attentional networks. Exp Brain Res 210, 81–89 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00221-011-2605-3

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Keywords

  • Attention Network Test
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Alertness
  • Spatial attention
  • Executive functions
  • Orienting effect
  • Conflict effect
  • Alerting effect