Time estimation is a complex cognitive task that is especially challenging when the time period includes sleep. To determine the accuracy of sleep duration perception, we investigated 44 healthy subjects participating in multi-day inpatient sleep protocols during which they had extended nighttime and short daytime sleep opportunities but no time cues or knowledge of time of day.
The first sleep opportunity was at habitual sleep time and duration. The subsequent 3, 4, or 11 days had 12-h nighttime sleep opportunities and 4-h daytime nap opportunities, potentially creating an experimentally induced “insomnia” with substantial time awake during scheduled sleep.
Subjective sleep duration estimates were accurate for the first (habitual) sleep opportunity. The subjective reports following nighttime 12-h sleep opportunities significantly underestimated objective sleep duration, while those following daytime 4-h sleep opportunities significantly overestimated objective sleep duration. Misperception errors were not explained by poor sleep efficiency, which was lower during 4-h (~39%) than 12-h opportunities (~71%). Subjective sleep estimates after 4-h opportunities correlated with the percentage of REM and N3 sleep. Subjective sleep estimates following 12-h opportunities were, unexpectedly, negatively correlated with NREM stage 2 sleep.
The estimation of sleep duration in the absence of time cues may depend on length of sleep opportunity and/or time of day. The results have implications for understanding sleep state misperception, which is an important consideration in patients with insomnia.
Bianchi MT; Wang W; Klerman EB. Sleep misperception in healthy adults: implications for insomnia diagnosis. J Clin Sleep Med 2012;8(5):547-554.