We all know that 8 hours of sleep is essential to a healthy body. Researchers have now discovered that without those essential 8 hours, the way you perform certain tasks can be affected. Scientists decided to look at how sleep might affect complex visual search tasks because they are common in safety-sensitive activities such as air-traffic control, baggage screening and monitoring power plants. These types of jobs involve processes that require repeated, quick memory encoding and retrieval of visual information, in combination with decision making about the information. Researchers collected and analyzed data from visual search tasks from a group of participants over one month’s study. In the first week, all participants were scheduled to sleep 10-12 hours per night to make sure they were well rested.
For the following three weeks, the participants were scheduled to sleep the equivalent of 5.6 hours per night and also had their sleep times scheduled on a 28-hour cycle, mirroring chronic jet lag. The research team gave the participants computer tests that involved visual search tasks and recorded how quickly the participants could find important information, and also how accurate they were. The longer the participants were awake, the more slowly they identified the important information in the test, the team observed. Additionally, during the biological night time, 12 a.m. to 6 a.m., participants (who were unaware of the time throughout the study) performed the tasks more slowly than they did during the daytime.