One of the most common ways to examine the daytime impact of sleep loss is the use of the psychomotor vigilance test (PVT). PVT metrics, including median reaction time (RT) and number of lapses, have been examined in a variety of studies in which both acute and chronic sleep times are manipulated. Most of these studies involve young, healthy individuals and use a visual stimulus. As light is a possible countermeasure to sleep loss, and sometimes incompatible with the use of visual PVT, PVT with auditory cues (aPVT) has been used. A threshold of 400 ms is commonly used to delineate lapses from normal RT in the aPVT. As aging can influence a variety of brain functions, we wanted to examine whether this lapse threshold was accurate for use in older adults.
Twenty-eight young and 19 healthy older participants performed a 10-min auditory PVT approximately 90 min before habitual bedtime. The occurrence of lapses was determined by five objective RT thresholds: (1) 400 ms, (2) 500 ms, (3) 2 × median, (4) mean + 2 × SD, and (5) method 4 without outliers. Results of these methods were compared with a triplicate visual inspection of RT histograms to determine RT outside of the expected log normal distribution.
In both groups, methods 1, 4, and 5 performed poorly, while methods 2 and 3 were adequate, though method 3 was statistically superior.
In both age groups, the use of twice the median as an objective threshold had the best concurrence with visual scoring.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Lim J, Dinges DF (2008) Sleep deprivation and vigilant attention. Ann N Y Acad Sci 1129:305–322. https://doi.org/10.1196/annals.1417.002
Dinges DF, Pack F, Williams K, Gillen KA, Powell JW, Ott GE, Aptowicz C, Pack AI (1997) Cumulative sleepiness, mood disturbance, and psychomotor vigilance performance decrements during a week of sleep restricted to 4-5 hours per night. Sleep 20(4):267–277
Basner M, Dinges DF (2011) Maximizing sensitivity of the psychomotor vigilance test (PVT) to sleep loss. Sleep 34(5):581–591
Doran SM, Van Dongen HP, Dinges DF (2001) Sustained attention performance during sleep deprivation: evidence of state instability. Arch Ital Biol 139(3):253–267
Lisper HO, Kjellberg A (1972) Effects of 24-hour sleep deprivation on rate of decrement in a 10-minute auditory reaction time task. J Exp Psychol 96(2):287–290
Dinges DF, Powell JW (1985) Microcomputer analyses of performance on a portable, simple visual RT task during sustained operations. Behav Res Meth Instr 17(6):625–655. https://doi.org/10.3758/BF03200977
Drummond SP, Bischoff-Grethe A, Dinges DF, Ayalon L, Mednick SC, Meloy MJ (2005) The neural basis of the psychomotor vigilance task. Sleep 28(9):1059–1068
Naito E, Kinomura S, Geyer S, Kawashima R, Roland PE, Zilles K (2000) Fast reaction to different sensory modalities activates common fields in the motor areas, but the anterior cingulate cortex is involved in the speed of reaction. J Neurophysiol 83(3):1701–1709. https://doi.org/10.1152/jn.2000.83.3.1701
Jung CM, Ronda JM, Czeisler CA, Wright KP Jr (2011) Comparison of sustained attention assessed by auditory and visual psychomotor vigilance tasks prior to and during sleep deprivation. J Sleep Res 20(2):348–355. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2869.2010.00877.x
Salthouse TA (2010) Selective review of cognitive aging. J Int Neuropsychol Soc 16(5):754–760. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1355617710000706
Harada CN, Natelson Love MC, Triebel KL (2013) Normal cognitive aging. Clin Geriatr Med 29(4):737–752. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cger.2013.07.002
Tun PA, Williams VA, Small BJ, Hafter ER (2012) The effects of aging on auditory processing and cognition. Am J Audiol 21(2):344–350. https://doi.org/10.1044/1059-0889(2012/12-0030)
Deary IJ, Corley J, Gow AJ, Harris SE, Houlihan LM, Marioni RE, Penke L, Rafnsson SB, Starr JM (2009) Age-associated cognitive decline. Br Med Bull 92:135–152. https://doi.org/10.1093/bmb/ldp033
Horne JA, Ostberg O (1976) A self-assessment questionnaire to determine morningness-eveningness in human circadian rhythms. Int J Chronobiol 4(2):97–110
World-Health-Organization (2001) The alcohol use disorders identification test: guidelines for use in primary care, 2nd edn. World Health Organization, Geneva, p 2
Basner M, Mollicone D, Dinges DF (2011) Validity and sensitivity of a brief psychomotor vigilance test (PVT-B) to total and partial sleep deprivation. Acta Astronaut 69(11–12):949–959. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.actaastro.2011.07.015
Dinges DF, Kribbs NB (1991) Performing while sleepy: effects of experimentally-induced sleepiness. Human performance and cognition. Sleep, sleepiness and performance 1991. John Wiley & Sons, Oxford, pp 97–128
R Foundation for Statistical Computing V, Austria (2014) R: a language and environment for statistical computing. R Development Core Team. https://www.r-project.org/
Cajochen C, Zeitzer JM, Czeisler CA, Dijk DJ (2000) Dose-response relationship for light intensity and ocular and electroencephalographic correlates of human alertness. Behav Brain Res 115(1):75–83
This study was supported by Velux Stiftung (NNo) and the U.S. Department of Defense (NNo).
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
The protocol was approved by the Stanford University Institutional Review Board. 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.
Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
Rights and permissions
About this article
Cite this article
Gabel, V., Kass, M., Joyce, D.S. et al. Auditory psychomotor vigilance testing in older and young adults: a revised threshold setting procedure. Sleep Breath 23, 1021–1025 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11325-019-01859-7
- Reaction time