Differential Impact of Sleep Deprivation and Circadian Timing on Reflexive Versus Inhibitory Control of Attention

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In a visually stimulating environment with competing stimuli, we continually choose where to allocate attention, and what to ignore. Wake and circadian-dependent modulation of attentional control and resolution of conflict is poorly understood. Twenty-two participants (17males; 25.6 ± 5.6 years) completed ocular motor tasks throughout 40 hours of sleep deprivation under constant routine conditions. A prosaccade task required a reflexive saccade toward a stimulus (no conflict), while an antisaccade task required inhibiting a reflexive saccade to the peripheral stimulus, and looking in the mirror opposite instead (conflict resolution). Antisaccade inhibitory errors showed circadian modulation, being highest in the morning, progressively decreasing until melatonin onset, before returning to the prior morning’s peak throughout the biological night. This diurnal rhythm was blunted by sleep loss (>24 hours), with inhibitory control remaining impaired across the second biological day. For prosaccade, responses slowed down during the biological night. Taken together, we provide evidence for a circadian modulation of attentional bias: the morning being biased toward reflexive responding, and the evening toward higher inhibitory control. Our data show that sleep loss and circadian timing differentially impact attention, depending on whether a response conflict is present (antisaccade) or absent (prosaccade).

Original languageEnglish
Article number7270
Number of pages10
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 29 Apr 2020


  • saccades
  • sleep deprivation

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