Association between free-living sleep and memory and attention in healthy adolescents

Runa Stefansdottir, Hilde Gundersen, Vaka Rognvaldsdottir, Alexander S. Lundervold, Sunna Gestsdottir, Sigridur L. Gudmundsdottir, Kong Y. Chen, Robert J. Brychta, Erlingur Johannsson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In laboratory studies, imposed sleep restriction consistently reduces cognitive performance. However, the association between objectively measured, free-living sleep and cognitive function has not been studied in older adolescents. To address this gap, we measured one week of sleep with a wrist-worn GT3X+ actigraph in 160 adolescents (96 girls, 17.7 ± 0.3 years) followed by assessment of working memory with an n-back task and visual attention with a Posner cue-target task. Over the week, participants spent 7.1 ± 0.8 h/night in bed and slept 6.2 ± 0.8 h/night with 88.5 ± 4.8% efficiency and considerable intra-participant night-to-night variation, with a standard deviation in sleep duration of 1.2 ± 0.7 h. Sleep measures the night before cognitive testing were similar to weekly averages. Time in bed the night before cognitive testing was negatively associated with response times during the most challenging memory task (3-back; p = 0.005). However, sleep measures the night before did not correlate with performance on the attention task and weekly sleep parameters were not associated with either cognitive task. Our data suggests shorter acute free-living sleep may negatively impact difficult memory tasks, however the relationship between free-living sleep and cognitive task performance in healthy adolescents is less clear than that of laboratory findings, perhaps due to high night-to-night sleep variation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number16877
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to thank Randi Stebbins of the University of the Iceland Writing Centre for manuscript editing assistance and Hans Haraldsson for statistical assistance, the participants and staff at participating schools, and the master’s students and researchers involved in the data collection. The Icelandic Centre for Research (RANNIS) (Grant No. 152509-051) and the University of Iceland Research Fund provided primary financial support for this project. KYC and RJB were funded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases intramural research program (Z01 DK071013 and Z01 DK071014). The study was performed at the University of Iceland in Reykjavik, Iceland.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020, The Author(s).

Other keywords

  • Sleep habits
  • Memory
  • Adolescent
  • Sleep measurement


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