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ASLEEP IN THE FAST LANE Essay Based Assessment

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Added on: 2022-12-10 10:21:57
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Lydia Dotto

Psychologicol Concepts sleep deprivation, functions of sleep, REM sleep Could you go a day without sleep? Two days? What abilities would fail first if you had to stay awake for twenty-four hours? Would your reaction time be slower? Could you still balance your checkbook? When would your vision become blurred and your hearing strained? Researchers at the Defence and Civil Institute of Environmental Medicine in Toronto, Canada, conducted studies examining the effects of sleep deprivation on task performance. The praject findings may have important implications for air traffic controllers, doctors, firefighters, and others who must be alert for long periods of time. Lydia Dotto, a participant in one of the studies, tells of the difficulties she and the other participants had while concentrating and performing various tasks after going without sleep for extended periods of time. What enables Dotto to improve her performance under these conditions? What states of consciousness does she experience when she goes without sleep? has taken just two days and two nights to reduce me to this sorry state-a fact that annoys me no end, because I'd started the experiment determined not to let it get the better of me. How difficult can it be to last two days without sleep, I'd asked myself as I checked in at the Defence and Civil Institute of Environmental Medicine (DCIEM) in Toronto shortly before noon on a Tuesday in early April. At that point, it was not hard to feel self-confident. I'd been awake only four hours, having awakened at 8:00 A.M. after sleeping a full eight hours the night before. I felt alert and mentally geared up for the challenge ahead. The researchers are rather bemused by my enthusiasm for this project. Most of their subjects are paid volunteers recruited ftom the ranks of the Canadian Forces. "We don't usually get subjects who are looking forward to the experience," Bob Angus, Head of Applied Psychology at DCIEM, comments wryly. He takes me down to the sleep lab, located in the basement off a drab, narrow hallway barricaded at both ends with Do Not Disturb signs. The lab consists of a suite of four small rooms in which the subjects work and a control room filled with computer equipment as well as a bank of small closed-circuit TV monitors lining one wall. Here the researchers, working in shifts, maintain an around-the-clock watch on tl,e subjects. Drooping eyelids and nodding heads are picked up by wall- Asleep in tbe Fast Lane 51 mounted TV cameras in each room ) and within moments, one of the researchers is headed down the hall to nudge the subject awake. As the hours wear on, these trips become more frequent. "I just kind of scratch on the door before I go in, to give them a chance to fool me,)' says Bob .... It's about 8:00 P.M. on Tuesday night, and I have now been awake for twelve hours. During the first ninety-minute session, I feel very alert-quite hyped up, in fact, and ready to face whatever challenges the computer throws my way. At the first break, between 9:30 and 10:00 P.M., I'm still feeling pretty good, and I note into the tape recorder that my motivation remains strong: "I really want to keep things under control and to keep myself awake and alert." But by the time the second break rolls around, just before midnight, I'm beginning to feel fatigued and my concentration is slipping: I become annoyed and frustrated if I can't understand something right away. The repetitive tasks are becoming both boring and irritating, eliciting a reaction of "Oh, Lord, not this one again." Being confronted with a test that I don't like to do provokes a few episodes of fist-waving at the terminal. Ross later observes that the frequency of these displays of temper, which have been duly witnessed on the closed-circuit 1\1, seems to be increasing. Periodically during sessions, the computer instructs me to sit with my eyes closed for four minutes. Now, as I enter the wee hours of the first night of sleep loss, I find myself drifting toward sleep during these closed-eyes sessions and I comment that although "I still feel I'm on top of the tasks, I'm glad when the breaks come." The computer also inquires solicitously from time to time about my mood and the degree of sleepiness and fatigue I feel. The sleepiness scale contains seven statements, starting with alert, wide awake through foggy, slowed down, beginning to lose interest in remaining awake to figbting sleep, losing tbe stJ7lggie to 1'emain awake. The fatigue checklist asks me to record whether I am bett"'" tban, tbe same as, or worse tban a series of statements ranging from very lively and extremely peppy to sligbtly pooped and "eady to drop. And the mood scale asks me to describe my feelings in terms such as carefree, Cbee1fitl, and fitll of pep or dull, drowsy, and defiant. By 7 :00 A.M. on Wednesday, dull, d,'owsy, and defiant don't even come close to describing how I feel. Now approaching twenty-four hours without sleep, I am not in a happy frame of mind. My subjective feelings of sleepiness and fatigue have increased sharply, and my mood, along with my performance, has begun to deteriorate badly. The words cbe"'fitl and peppy are no longer in my vocabulary. Although I can still remain reasonably alert during the war game exercises, Pm beginning to struggle against falling asleep during the more boring tasks. "Sleep is starting to ambush me," I report into the tape recorder. "I find myself staring into space. I just kind of blank out; it's like I vanish, disappear." I know that sometime during this experiment, I'll be allowed to have a nap. Periodically, the computer taunts me with questions like "If you could sleep now, would you do so?" For the first time, I start hinting that I wouldn't turn down a nap if it were to be offered. It isn't. The computer, it seems, is only interested in knowing if I'd like a nap, not in actually satisfying my wish. 52 Cbapter 3 Consciousness During the next break, which I have calculated occurs during early morning, Ross appears looking suspiciously well scrubbed and wearing a cheerful grin. He does not look like a sleep-deprived person and this makes me feel distinctly grumpy. I find that I'm also depressed. I "hit the wall" during the last work session, and as a result, I've broken my rule not to think too far ahead. The certain knowledge that there's at least another full day and night of this to get tllrough induces a state of mild despair, and for the first time I wonder if I'm going to make it. Julia is also beginning to despair about her ability to carry on, reflecting, "It's this rough now and I have to make it through another night." Ours is a typical response to "the first-night effect." Subjects hit a low point between abour 4:00 and 6:00 A.M. after the first night of lost sleep, says Ross. "They feel very depressed because they think, 'If I'm feeling this tired and it's only the first night, I'll never make it. I'm going to die. '" Certainly, I'm beginning to wonder how I'm going to marshal the resources needed to go back into that room. As it happens, however, I don't have to. At the end of tlle break period, about 10:00 A.M. on Wednesday, Ross announces tllat it's nap time. VVhen I was six years old, these were dreaded words; now they couldn't have been more welcome. Julia and I bed down on cots in two of the unused rooms. We're allowed to remove the belts of tape recorders, which are laid beside tlle beds trailing their wires. The electrodes have to stay on, of course, but it hardly matters; I've reached the stage where nothing's going to keep me awake, not even the sensation of having my head in a vise. The nap occurs between 10:00 A.M. and noon on Wednesday. For me, it comes at just the right time, rescuing me as I'm about to hit rock bottom. As I settle gratefully into the bed and close my eyes, I experience a momentary anxiety that I won't be able to sleep on demand, even tllOugh-or perhaps because-I desperately want to. But, given my advanced state of exhaustion, and perhaps the fact that I am used to napping in my "regular" life, I manage to fall asleep very quickly, even under these unusual circumstances. Julia, though also highly fatigued, is less happy than I about the timing of the nap. She's a morning person and by midmorning is usually at the height of alertness. Even though she's in a sleep-deprived state, her biological rhythms had begun to climb by 10:00 A.M. and she had trouble falling asleep. "I'd have preferred the nap earlier on, say at 4:00 A.M., because that was my really low point," she commented later. But she began to pick up after tlle early-morning break during which we had breakfast: "I was awake by the time the nap came along because that's my high point of the day. It wasn't when I craved sleep. I hadn't geared up to having a nap; I was not thinking, 'I've just got to last till the nap.' I think that's why I had such difficulty getting to sleep." She too put psychological pressure on herself, knowing the nap would be her only opportunity to sleep until tlle end of the experiment. "I knew the nap was two hours long and I was saying, 'e'man, got to get to sleep, got to make the most of this two hours of sleep.'" In the end, she managed about lV2 hours of sleep. Asleep il1 tbe Fost Lane 53 The nap helped both of us tremendously. I woke up feeling completely refreshed and in a greatly improved frame of mind-feeling, in fact, pretty much as I had when the experiment began. Even though she did not sleep for the full two hours, Julia felt the nap helped her too. "If I hadn't had it, I'd be dead by now," she said during the last break before tl,e end of tl,e experiment. Ross asked her if she felt the nap had allowed her to do better on the computer tasks. "I felt better, yes, but whetller I did betrer or not, I don't know." In fact, the nap had a significant impact on our performance of the tasks. Our scores on the logical reasoning and serial reaction time tasks improved by more than 40 percent afrer tl,e nap, and in one case, Julia's score almost doubled. Equally important, for a period of more than twelve hours after the nap, our performance was maintained well above tl,e levels to which they'd dropped before the nap. At times, our performance after the nap was nearly equal to--and occasionally even better than-our performance when we first started the experiment. In some cases, our scores did not fall below their prenap lows until about 5:30 A.M. on tl,e second night of lost sleep, some 171/2 hours afrer the nap. Studying the effect of napping on performance was the whole point of tl,is experiment, one of a series of such studies conducted by Angus and his group in recent years. They're focusing on factors that affect the performance of military personnel under battle conditions (referred to as "sustained operations"), when they might have to function for days on end with only brief snatches of sleep. However, these studies on napping-currently one of the hottest new fields of sleep research-have much wider implications. The knowledge gained about human sleep/wake patterns may someday help others-doctors, pilots, atllietes, air traffic controllers, firefighters, nuclear plant operators and astronauts, to name just a fewwhose jobs demand high levels of alertness over long periods of time andlor sustained high-quality performance under extremely demanding conditions. These studies may also help people Witll more normal but still stressful jobs, such as executives who work long hours or travel a lot, and millions of people trying to cope, ofren unsuccessfully, witll shift work. Reviewing tl,e data from my experiment, Angus noted with satisfaction tl,at "the nap seemed to give you almost a whole day. It really helped." But it couldn't sustain me indefinitely. BotllJulia and I began to disintegrate during tl,e earlymorning hours after tl,e second night of sleep loss, and toward the end, we both exhibited a sharp roller-coaster pattern on the tests, performing moderately wellthough with ever-diminishing accuracy-immediately after a break but falling apart rapidly in the middle of tl,e ninety-minute work sessions. These extreme swings are a striking feature of work sessions during the second day or so without sleep. Ross commented that when subjects are well rested, breaks don't make much difference in their performance because they're already very alert. But as time wears on and fatigue starts to build, the breaks do have a brief noticeable effect, causing the roller-coaster performance pattern. Ultimately, however, they lose their effectiveness and "after you've been awake two or three days, they don't make much difference. " 54 C!Japter 3 Consciollsness There were many similarities in the way Julia and I reacted to extreme sleep deprivation, but there were also some intriguing differences. \¥hite I experienced sensations of blanlcing out and "disappearing," Julia felt that her thoughts were wandering aimlessly. "My mind would shoot off and I had no control over it," she said. "My thought patterns were going off in different directions." Often, she could not comprehend words printed on the screen because they seemed to be spelled wrong. "They looked totally weird and I thought, '\¥hat is this word?' \¥hen you look at a word for a long time, it just appears to be odd. That kept capturing my attention, rather than what I was supposed to be doing." She also had some mild hallucinatory experiences; sometimes she was uncertain whether she was actually doing a task or merely dreaming that she was doing it, and at times she felt as though there was someone in the room. "I got quite worried about the shadows around me. I kept on thinking that somebody's in the room with me because I see shadows on the walls. My vision's a bit iffy." Like me, she was easily annoyed by the computer's "damn fool questions," but, she added, "I was less grouchy than I thought I was going to be."

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  • Posted on : December 10th, 2022
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