The Journal of Neuroscience

May 21, 2008, 28(21):5519-5528; doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0733-08.2008

Lapsing during Sleep Deprivation Is Associated with Distributed Changes in Brain Activation

Michael W. L. Chee,1 Jiat Chow Tan,1 Hui Zheng,1 Sarayu Parimal,1 Daniel H. Weissman,2 Vitali Zagorodnov,3 and David F. Dinges4

1Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory, Duke–National University of Singapore Graduate Medical School, Singapore 169611, Singapore, 2Department of Psychology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109, 3School of Computer Engineering, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore 639798, Singapore, and 4Division of Sleep and Chronobiology, Department of Psychiatry, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104

Correspondence should be addressed to Dr. Michael Chee, Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory, Duke–National University of Singapore Graduate Medical School, 7 Hospital Drive, #01-11, Block B, Singapore 169611, Singapore. Email:


Lapses of attention manifest as delayed behavioral responses to salient stimuli. Although they can occur even after a normal night’s sleep, they are longer in duration and more frequent after sleep deprivation (SD). To identify changes in task-associated brain activation associated with lapses during SD, we performed functional magnetic resonance imaging during a visual, selective attention task and analyzed the correct responses in a trial-by-trial manner modeling the effects of response time. Separately, we compared the fastest 10% and slowest 10% of correct responses in each state. Both analyses concurred in finding that SD-related lapses differ from lapses of equivalent duration after a normal night’s sleep by (1) reduced ability of frontal and parietal control regions to raise activation in response to lapses, (2) dramatically reduced visual sensory cortex activation, and (3) reduced thalamic activation during lapses that contrasted with elevated thalamic activation during nonlapse periods. Despite these differences, the fastest responses after normal sleep and after SD elicited comparable frontoparietal activation, suggesting that performing a task while sleep deprived involves periods of apparently normal neural activation interleaved with periods of depressed cognitive control, visual perceptual functions, and arousal. These findings reveal for the first time some of the neural consequences of the interaction between efforts to maintain wakefulness and processes that initiate involuntary sleep in sleep-deprived persons.

Key words: lapses; visual cortex; functional neuroimaging; cognitive control; attention; sleep deprivation

Being deprived of sleep even for one night makes the brain unstable and prone to sudden shutdowns akin to a power failure – brief lapses that hover between sleep and wakefulness, according to researchers.”It’s as though it is both asleep and awake and they are switching between each other very rapidly,” said David Dinges of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, whose study appears in the Journal of Neuroscience.”Imagine you are sitting in a room watching a movie with the lights on. In a stable brain, the lights stay on all the time. In a sleepy brain, the lights suddenly go off,” Dinges said



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