When deprived of sleep, some people are able to cope and respond much better than others. Although scientists have identified genes associated with this phenomenon, it was still unknown why the effects of sleep deprivation tend to vary so widely across both individuals and cognitive tasks.
[I]n a new study published in the journal Scientific Reports, researchers at Washington State University have identified a genetic variation that significantly impacts how well sleep-deprived individuals perform mental tasks.
The findings show that people with a particular variation of the DRD2 gene are resilient to the effects of sleep deprivation when performing tasks that require cognitive flexibility, the ability to make appropriate decisions based on changing information.
However, sleep-deprived people with two other variations of this same gene tend to perform much more poorly on the same kinds of tasks.
The effects of sleep deprivation on cognitive flexibility can have serious consequences, particularly in high stakes, real-world situations like an emergency room or military operations where the ability to respond to changing circumstances is vital.
The researchers are currently applying what they’ve learned from their study to develop new ways to help surgeons, police officers, soldiers and other individuals who regularly deal with the effects of sleep deprivation in critical, ever-changing settings cope with the loss of cognitive flexibility.
[Editor’s note: Read full study]
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