Post-sleep inertia performance benefits of longer naps in simulated nightwork and extended operations

Hannah M Mulrine, T Leigh Signal, Margo J van den Berg, Philippa H Gander
Chronobiology International 2012, 29 (9): 1249-57
Operational settings involving shiftwork or extended operations require periods of prolonged wakefulness, which in conjunction with sleep loss and circadian factors, can have a negative impact on performance, alertness, and workplace safety. Napping has been shown to improve performance and alertness after periods of prolonged wakefulness and sleep loss. Longer naps may not only result in longer-lasting benefits but also increase the risk of sleep inertia immediately upon waking. The time course of performance after naps of differing durations is thus an important consideration in weighing the benefits and risks of napping in workplace settings. The objective of this study was to evaluate the effectiveness of nap opportunities of 20, 40, or 60 min for maintaining alertness and performance 1.5-6 h post-nap in simulated nightwork (P1) or extended operations (P2). Each protocol included 12 participants in a within-subjects design in a controlled laboratory environment. After a baseline 8 h time-in-bed, healthy young males (P1 mean age 25.1 yr; P2 mean age 23.2 yr) underwent either ≈ 20 h (P1) or ≈ 30 h (P2) of sleep deprivation on four separate occasions, followed by nap opportunities of 0, 20, 40, and 60 min. Sleep on the baseline night and during the naps was recorded polysomnographically. During the nap opportunities, sleep onset latency was short and sleep efficiency was high. A greater proportion of slow-wave sleep (SWS) was obtained in nap opportunities of 40 and 60 min compared with 20 min. Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep occurred infrequently. A subjective sleepiness rating (Karolinska Sleepiness Scale, KSS), 2-Back Working Memory Task (WMT), and Psychomotor Vigilance Task (PVT) were completed 1.5, 2, 2.5, 3, 4, 5, and 6 h post-nap. The slowest 10% of PVT responses were significantly faster after 40 and 60 min naps compared with a 20 min (P1) or no (P2) nap. There were significantly fewer PVT lapses after 40 and 60 min naps compared with no nap (P2), and after 60 min naps compared with 20 min naps (P1). Participants felt significantly less sleepy and made more correct responses and fewer omissions on the WMT after 60 min naps compared with no nap (P2). Subjective sleepiness and WMT performance were not related to the amount of nap-time spent in SWS. However, PVT response speed was significantly slower when time in SWS was <10 min compared with 20-29.9 min. In conclusion, in operationally relevant scenarios, nap opportunities of 40 and 60 min show more prolonged benefits 1.5-6 h post-nap, than a 20 min or no nap opportunity. Benefits were more apparent when the homeostatic pressure for sleep was high and post-nap performance testing occurred across the afternoon (P2). For sustained improvement in cognitive performance, naps of 40-60 min are recommended.

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