NASA develops eye movement test for sleep deprivation

The measurements can be used to distinguish sleep-related impairment from deficits related to alcohol or brain injury

girl rubbing her eyes
NASA scientists have developed a range of eye movement tests that can identify acute sleep loss in individuals.

The research, which was published in The Journal of Physiology, found that the measures could be used to provide a sensitive and reliable way of detecting small neural deficits.  

The scientists highlight that the tests can differentiate alcohol and brain injury-related impairment from that linked to sleep deprivation.

During the experiment, 12 participants had two weeks with a regular sleep schedule of eight and a half hours per night and abstained from alcohol, drugs and caffeine to ensure that they began the trial without sleep debt.

The participants then spent up to 28 hours awake with their visual and eye movement performance monitored at regular intervals.

When participants were required to track stimuli with unpredictable onset, direction, speed and starting location, their eye movements were dramatically impaired when sleep deprived.

Senior study author, Lee Stone, highlighted that the research illustrates the safety ramifications of sleep deprivation for workers who need to display precise visual coordination.

“By looking at a wide variety of components of human eye movements, we could not only detect sleepiness but also distinguish it from other factors,” he shared.

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