Vigilance, alertness, or sustained attention: physiological basis and measurement

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

537 Scopus citations


Vigilance is a term with varied definitions but the most common usage is sustained attention or tonic alertness. This usage of vigilance implies both the degree of arousal on the sleep-wake axis and the level of cognitive performance. There are many interacting neural and neurotransmitter systems that affect vigilance. Most studies of vigilance have relied on states where the sleep-wake state is altered, e.g. drowsiness, sleep-deprivation, and CNS-active drugs, but there are factors ranging from psychophysics to motivation that may impact vigilance. While EEG is the most commonly studied physiologic measure of vigilance, various measures of eye movement and of autonomic nervous system activity have also been used. This review paper discusses the underlying neural basis of vigilance and its assessment using physiologic tools. Since, assessment of vigilance requires assessment of cognitive function this aspect is also discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1885-1901
Number of pages17
JournalClinical Neurophysiology
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2006


  • Arousal
  • Attention
  • Cognition
  • EEG
  • Evoked potentials
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Vigilance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sensory Systems
  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Physiology (medical)


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