How can I measure my sleep deprivation, using SCIENCE?
February 19, 2010 1:14 PM   Subscribe

What kind of tests can I perform to quantify my functioning, in response to varying levels of sleep deprivation?

Often, I don't sleep very much. Sometimes I notice this; sometimes, I feel fine. I'd like to know if, in those latter times, I'm fooling myself---or if I am, in fact, operating at full capacity, and have stumbled upon the right combination of naps, modafinil, caffeine, food, exercise, etc. necessary to maintain a high level of functioning on low levels of sleep.

I'm looking for some simple tests, preferably used by scientists, and even more preferably easy to do without equipment. (So, online Flash-type tests are good; eye tracking stuff not so much.) I'm not entirely sure what I need to be measuring here---"psychomotor skills" comes up a lot in sleep deprivation research, but what exactly are those, and how would I test them? I'm also very interested in various cognitive tests, e.g. can I perform arithmetic as fast as when I am very awake, or maybe my Stroop test reaction times would be useful?

I can definitely pull together a bunch of tests like the ones I've mentioned and kind of hope they measure something meaningful---and perhaps even test such a hypothesis just by doing them while awake and while sleep-deprived---but I'd love to get some literature citations or the like to make me feel like I'm measuring something useful.
posted by Jacen Solo to Health & Fitness (6 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
First things first: Start keeping a sleep journal. There are many templates out on the web. Time to bed, time awoken, number of times awake at night, reason you were awake, did you remember dreams (Y/N), how you felt (good/bad/indifferent). You can start noticing the overall patterns first, before doing any crazy tests.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:19 PM on February 19, 2010

I would look at straight-up reaction time, which is one of the canonical Things That Are Slowed When You're Sleep-Deprived (try running a search on for "sleep deprivation reaction time" for a lot of studies using several metrics).

There's a quick-and-dirty way to test reaction time, but it requires a partner. Get a yardstick or ruler. Put a mark, or a piece of tape, on it. Have a friend hold it up, and put your hand around (but not touching) the ruler so that the top of your hand is in line with the mark. The friend drops the ruler, you catch it ASAP. The distance in mm from the mark to where you catch the ruler is a readout of your reaction time (if you want, you could even calculate out your reaction time based on the distance and the ruler's acceleration due to gravity). You need to do this several times when well-rested, so that you know your baseline value. Then repeat the test a few times when you're sleep-deprived. Since you're running this test under multiple treatment protocols (i.e. no treatment, naps + modafinil, naps + caffeine, etc.), you can determine if your differences are "real" by running a one-way ANOVA with the post-hoc tests of your choice.
posted by kataclysm at 1:24 PM on February 19, 2010

Reaction time test
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 1:26 PM on February 19, 2010

Another one, and there are various other tests at that site
posted by pete_22 at 1:37 PM on February 19, 2010

This description of the Epworth Sleepiness Scale (the most common way to measure sleepiness in a basic way) describes how the test was developed and what it's measuring. In particular, it talks about factors that give a more accurate indication of how sleepy you actually are and those should probably be taken into consideration when you're trying to measure that for yourself.
Sleep propensity can be measured only within the context of the subject’s situation and activity, both physical and mental, at the time. A person’s usual sleep propensity when in the same situation repeatedly can be called their situational sleep propensity (SSP), e.g. when sitting and watching TV. This is partly situation-specific for each subject.
posted by Kimberly at 1:53 PM on February 19, 2010

I can definitely pull together a bunch of tests like the ones I've mentioned and kind of hope they measure something meaningful

You need to be wary of putting the cart before the horse here: those sorts of tests are used in clinical settings to measure the impact of not sleeping on the body. Taking them to tell you how you're sleeping isn't going to do much good, and the results will be absolutely useless without actually knowing how much you're sleeping.

Judging how much you're sleeping is notoriously difficult: there's actually a whole, and very common, variety of insomnia where the patients actually sleep fine, they just think that they don't.

So first I'd keep a sleep diary or look into sleep monitoring equipment. Performance tests can later tell you the effect of X hours of sleep on you.
posted by bonaldi at 4:50 PM on February 19, 2010

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