Sleep Deprivation and Dangerous Consequences

Your ability to make smart decisions can be lost when you lack sleep. You may take chances you wouldn't ordinarily take, have a false sense of what you can accomplish, and if you're a gambler or an over-spender, the results could be disastrous.

When getting a good night's sleep is difficult, engaging in risky behavior such as mindless spending is that much easier because you don't have the wherewithal to stop yourself.

According to researchers at the Brain Imaging and Analysis Center and Center for Cognitive Neuroscience at Duke University, this type of behavior has a biological basis. The researchers analyzed the decision-making patterns of a small group of adults who had not slept for 24 hours. During both well-rested and sleep-deprived test sessions, the participants were given choices in the form of monetary gambling games that involved various levels of risk and decisions that had to be made within a limited period of time.

Brain scans taken at the same time during this study showed increased activity in the areas of the brain involving decision-making and anticipation of reward, and decreased activation in the processing of emotions related to loss, regret, and sensitivity to punishment. In other words, sleep-deprived participants were more likely to take a bigger risk and believe they would be rewarded. At the same time, they were less upset about losing money than when they were fully rested.

When you're overtired and faced with choices, learn to say "let me sleep on that" before you make any big decisions—especially if it has to do with money.

In the meantime, follow these guidelines for developing better sleep habits:

  • Establish a regular, restful bedtime routine that includes going to bed at the same time every night and waking up the same time every day, even on weekends and holidays.
  • Make sure you go to bed early enough to allow yourself a full night's rest before you have to get up.
  • Avoid eating big meals, strenuous exercise ,or any other stimulating activity within a couple of hours of your bedtime.
  • Don't lie in bed planning the next day's activities or worrying about the future. It might help to write down your plans or concerns before you go to bed and, if necessary, allow yourself some extra time to deal with them in the morning.
  • Speak to your doctor if physical pain, anxiety, depression, or another mood disorder is disrupting your sleep. If you're not sure why you're not getting enough sleep, speak to her about the possibility of a sleep disorder.




Venkatraman, V. "Sleep Deprivation Elevates Expectation of Gains and Attenuates Response to Losses Following Risky Decisions."  Sleep 2007; 30(5): 603-609. Web 27 Oct 2011.