Lack of sleep may push you into some risky decisions

People are not getting enough sleep nowadays. It is actually quite shocking how little we sleep, despite the fact that scientists and doctors are always talking about huge negative effects of sleep deprivation. Now researchers from the University of Zurich have revealed a new negative effect of a simple lack of sleep – risk-seeking behaviour.

You may think this is no big deal, but risk seeking behaviour without even noticing it could lead to a huge variety of dangerous situations. Imagine a truck driver who wants to earn as much money as possible and so refuses to stop for resting. His risk-seeking behaviour could be outright life-threatening to many road users.

Young adults should get at least 9 hours of sleep per night and older ones – at least 7.5. Lack of sleep may lead to potentially dangerous risky decisions. Image credit: Stougard via Wikimedia(CC BY-SA 3.0)

Young adults should look into sleeping 9 hours a day and adults – at least 7.5 hours. However, numerous studies showed that people in western societies rarely sleep enough. Now scientists were analysing effects of sleep deprivation by observing 4 healthy male students aged from 18 to 28 years. A simple research revealed that when students were sleeping only 5 hours a day one week, they were showing increased risk-seeking behaviour compared to the week when they slept 8 hours a day. Scientists measured risk-seeking behaviour by giving students a choice of obtaining a specified amount of money paid out with a given probability or playing it safe with a lower amount of money paid out for sure. Risky decisions could pay the most, but students could also lose the most if they opted for the most risky choices.

There are a couple of good news and a bad one. Firstly, one night of short sleep did not really do anything to risk-seeking characteristics. Secondly, world leaders should be getting enough sleep as this is seen as a requirement for remaining healthy. The bad news is that people don’t notice the change in their behaviour. They don’t know they are more willing to take risks, when they are lacking sleep.

This is the first study to prove that a low depth of sleep in the right prefrontal cortex is directly connected with higher risk-seeking behaviour. Christian Baumann, one of the authors of the study, said: “We assume that behavioral changes occur for anatomical-functional reasons to some extent as a result of the right prefrontal cortex not being able to recover properly due to a chronic lack of sleep”.

A good night sleep is very important for our health. While we sleep our mind rests and body heals. This is when our memories get consolidated and all the wear from the day is repaired. While finishing assignments may seem important for you at the moment, sleeping well would make you  more relaxed and focused in the morning.


Source: University of Zurich

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