The impact of the wake maintenance zone on attentional capacity, physiological drowsiness, and subjective task demands during sleep deprivation

William Ryan McMahon, Suzanne Ftouni, Charmaine Diep, Jinny Collet, Steven W. Lockley, Shantha M.W. Rajaratnam, Paul Maruff, Sean P.A. Drummond, Clare Anderson

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We aimed to investigate the impact of the Wake Maintenance Zone (WMZ) on measures of drowsiness, attention, and subjective performance under rested and sleep deprived conditions. We studied 23 healthy young adults (18 males; mean age = 25.41 ± 5.73 years) during 40 hr of total sleep deprivation under constant routine conditions. Participants completed assessments of physiological drowsiness (EEG-scored slow eye movements and microsleeps), sustained attention (PVT), and subjective task demands every two hours, and four-hourly ocular motor assessment of inhibitory control (inhibition of reflexive saccades on an anti-saccade task). Tests were analyzed relative to dim light melatonin onset (DLMO); the WMZ was defined as the 3 hr prior to DLMO, and the preceding 3 hr window was deemed the pre-WMZ. The WMZ did not mitigate the adverse impact of ~37 hr sleep deprivation on drowsiness, sustained attention, response inhibition, and self-rated concentration and difficulty, relative to rested WMZ performance (~13 hr of wakefulness). Compared to the pre-WMZ, though, the WMZ improved measures of sustained attention, and subjective concentration and task difficulty, during sleep deprivation. Cumulatively, these results expand on previous work by characterizing the beneficial effects of the WMZ on operationally-relevant indices of drowsiness, inhibitory attention control, and self-rated concentration and task difficulty relative to the pre-WMZ during sleep deprivation. These results may inform scheduling safety-critical tasks at more optimal circadian times to improve workplace performance and safety.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere13312
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Sleep Research
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2021


  • circadian rhythms
  • cognitive function
  • dim light melatonin onset
  • melatonin
  • sleep deprivation
  • wake maintenance zone

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