Sleepy Soldiers’ Split-Second Situation Assessment Skewed

Study demonstrates decrease in ability to make rapid judgement calls due to sleep deprivation.

   By: Nicole Myers        

          In a study conducted at the University of Texas and published in the journal Sleep, researchers found that sleep deprivation negatively impacts information-integration, the type of cognitive processing that allows fast, accurate, gut-feeling decisions.

            Soldiers in combat rely heavily on the ability to instantly make the right decisions in high pressure situations. Researcher Tom Maddox explains, “information-integration… is critical in situations when solders need to make split-second decisions about whether a potential target is an enemy soldier, a civilian, or one of their own.” Unfortunately, combat missions don’t exactly lend themselves to full nights of sleep, and soldiers in these operations are often extremely sleep- deprived.

            The study tested 49 West Point Cadets on information-integration tasks, once as a baseline and then again after 24 hours of either sleep deprivation or a normal sleep-wake cycle. While the rested cadets significantly improved their scores in the second round of testing, the sleep-deprived cadets’ scores dropped slightly. This indicates that even the mild sleep-deprivation of one night’s sleep loss impacted the cadets’ ability to use this crucial form of decision making.

          Researchers observed that one way sleep-deprivation impaired decision making was by causing subjects to shift from the fast and accurate cognitive strategy of information integration to a slower, more controlled, but less-effective rule-based approach, in which they tended to over-think the problems.

          The effect that sleep-deprivation had on decision making varied among individuals. Those who had a tendency to use a rule-based approach to problem solving in the first place were more vulnerable to the effects of sleep-deprivation. Some subjects continued to use an information-integration approach despite sleep-deprivation, and their performance showed no decline in the second set of testing. This suggests that the cognitive function necessary for information-integration strategies is not necessarily strongly affected by sleep deprivation. But, the use of an information-integration strategy in a task may require active inhibition of rule-based strategies, and this inhibitory process is what is vulnerable to the effects of sleep deprivation.

          An understanding of the effects of sleep-deprivation on various cognitive functions and decision making abilities is critical for a military in a time of war, when enormous physical demands are placed on soldiers who are often deprived of sleep and sustenance and who must make split-second life or death decisions. 

For the original research click: http://www.journalsleep.org/ViewAbstract.aspx?pid=27617

14 thoughts on “Sleepy Soldiers’ Split-Second Situation Assessment Skewed”

  1. This is so interesting. I always knew sleep was a huge factor in normal cognitive function, but never really made the connection of how important it really is for soldiers who need to make snap-decisions on only minimal sleep.

  2. This indicates that even the mild sleep-deprivation of one night’s sleep loss impacted the cadets’ ability to use this crucial form of decision making.

  3. Nice posting! The other effect that sleep deprivation is about consentration, how we faces the day. And how about the policies that government make about this problem ?

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