Haven’t Slept? You’re Almost Guaranteed to Make Bad Decisions


It’s no secret that severe sleep deprivation can have horrible consequences. Stories of these consequences permeate the news, from multi car accidents to workplace mistakes that end up being deadly.

Researchers at Washington State University recently conducted a study on the effects of sleep deprivation on 26 volunteers and were able to observe its effect on the brain and on people’s ability to carry out different tasks.

Effects of sleep deprivation

Half of the study subjects were made to stay awake for two days, while the other half were allowed to sleep normally. After the two days, all 26 subjects were asked to complete different decision making tests. The results showed that people had difficulty retaining even slight information when they were sleep deprived. A May 2015 article on NPR details the results of the study. “‘It wasn’t just that sleep-deprived people were slower to recover,” says Paul Whitney, a psychologist at the university who led the study. “Their ability to take in new information and adjust was completely devastated.'”

 But the study also noted that, “Sleep loss didn’t affect all types of thinking. Everyone did pretty well on tasks that tested short-term memory, though the well-rested people did slightly better.” While scientists don’t fully understand the reasoning behind this phenomenon, it serves as proof that one’s ability to make important decisions can be severely impacted when they are sleep deprived.

For many of us, these high stakes decisions probably won’t prove fatal, but they can get us into a lot of trouble. Sleep deprivation can lead to serious mistakes on the job, car accidents and other such negative situations. Researchers and doctors alike have long touted the benefits of a good night’s sleep, but with the pace of life and ever growing to-do lists, it can be hard to get enough sleep on a consistent basis. However, sleeping regularly helps with mood, memory, immunity and a wide range of other factors.  If you need help sleeping, try some of these tips and tricks to help calm your mind and sleep more restfully. 


Studies show that exercising on a regular basis helps people sleep better. In an article published by the National Sleep Foundation, it is noted that, “After 4 to 24 weeks of exercise, adults with insomnia fell asleep more quickly, slept slightly longer, and had better sleep quality than before they began exercising (Guilleminault et al., 1995; Passos et al., 2011; Reid et al., 2010).” Exercise has also been shown to reduce stress, which is one key contributor to insomnia. Try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise per day. It doesn’t have to be vigorous. Something as simple as a daily walk can help aid in stress relief and help you sleep better. 

Audio Books

Various books, DVDs and audio resources that contain techniques to help individuals break out of their negative sleeping patterns are available. A recent Web Psychology post provides a list and reviews of resources that are available for those who have trouble sleeping. The list includes resources from renowned sleep doctors, as well as books with meditative techniques from various experts, including Deepak Chopra. Though researchers caution against the use of technology prior to going to bed, downloading some of these books to an e-reader with a dimming function or listening to them on MP3 can help you learn to quiet your mind and fall asleep more quickly. 

Seek Professional Help If Necessary

Not everyone who has difficulty falling asleep is suffering from a clinical sleep disorder, but if you’re routinely missing out on essential zzzs, it may be time to consult a professional. Various conditions from anxiety to depression to sleep apnea can seriously hamper one’s ability to sleep, and participating in a sleep study can help patients determine the root cause. Once you are aware of what might be causing your sleep issues, it will be easier to treat them. Getting treatment for psychological disorders may help them from taking over your brain to the point of disrupting sleep patterns. Finding out that there is a physical cause behind sleep disturbances will allow your doctor to formulate a treatment plan. 

Sleep deprivation can be detrimental to everyday decision making, which in turn can impact your life. By treating your insomnia and making an effort to get a good night’s sleep on a regular basis, you can reduce your propensity to make mistakes that could throw a wrench into your daily life.