The effects of sleep deprivation and extreme exertion on cognitive performance at the world-record breaking Suffolk Back Yard Ultra-marathon

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Using a prospective observational design, this study investigated the hypothesis that competing in the Suffolk Back Yard Ultra-marathon, would result in impaired cognitive performance and examined whether pre-race sleep patterns could mitigate this. Fifteen runners (1 female) volunteered to undertake this study and eleven males were included in the final analysis. Before the race and after withdrawal participants completed the following cognitive performance tasks: 2 Choice Reaction Time (2CRT), Stroop, and the Tower Puzzle. Pre-race sleep strategies were subjectively recorded with a 7-day sleep diary. Following race withdrawal, reaction time increased (Δ 77±68 ms; p = 0.004) in the 2CRT and executive function was impaired in the Stroop task (Interference score Δ -4.3±5.6 a.u.; p = 0.028). Decision making was not affected in the Tower Puzzle task. There was a significant correlation between the pre-race 7-day average sleep scores and both 2CRT Δ throughput (r = 0.61; p = 0.045) and 2CRT Δ RT (r = -0.64; p = 0.034). This study supports the hypothesis that running an ultra-marathon, which includes at least one night of sleep deprivation, impairs cognitive performance and provides novel evidence suggesting good sleep quality, in the week prior to an ultra-marathon, could minimise these effects.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0299475
Number of pages13
JournalPLoS One
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 14 Mar 2024

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