The American journal Sleep recently published the results of a study showing that sleep deprivation greatly affects decision-making and the capacity for analysis and judgement. This is something we should bear in mind, since it appears that Canadian workers seem to be stringing together nights with too little sleep during the week.
We already knew that sleep deprivation was associated with a greater risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity, and depression. But up until now, no study had demonstrated that it may lead to disastrous decision-making, as sleep-deprived people are simply unable to take new information into account and adapt their decisions.
This is the conclusion that was reached by researchers at Washington State University. Among the 26 participants in the study, half were deprived of sleep for two days, while the other half were allowed a normal amount of sleep. Over the course of a week, researchers tested the decision-making abilities of the two groups through various exercises.
One group was not very receptive to new instructions
Initially, participants were asked to click a button when they saw certain numbers and to refrain from clicking when they saw other numbers. This first exercise revealed that the sleep-deprived group performed worse. But when the instructions were reversed, this same group’s results proved disastrous. Even after 40 attempts, none of the participants who were in need of sleep knew how to respond positively to the new instructions.
According to scientists, sleep deprivation tends to numb the part of the nervous system responsible for analysing new information received. Paul Whitney, the psychologist in charge of the study, concluded that people suffering from sleep deprivation should at all costs avoid making decisions with far-reaching consequences.
Canadians suffering from loss of sleep
As you may recall, most adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night to feel well rested. Yet very few keep to this average. In a survey by Ceridian, entitled “Why Canadian Workers are Losing Sleep”, only half of the employees surveyed feel that they get enough sleep, and 44% say that they get less than 6 hours of sleep per night during the week. And yet workers’ sleep quality is an essential component of their well-being and productivity at work.