Lack of Sleep Increases Risk-Taking

Not sleeping the correct amount has a lot of downsides, including obesity, heart disease, and reduced mental capacity.  Add another possible side effect: increased risk-taking.

Young adults have a natural sleep requirement of about nine hours a day on average.  Older adults need seven-and-a-half hours. According to studies, however, about one-third of the persons in several industrial countries reported less than that. If a young adult sleeps less than 8 hours a night, increased attention deficits occur, which can lead to considerable negative consequences. 

Researchers at the University of Zurich and the University Hospital Zurich have now identified a further critical consequence of a chronic lack of sleep: increased risk-seeking. The sleep and neuroeconomics scientists studied the risk behavior of 14 healthy male students aged from 18 to 28 years. If the students slept only five hours a night for a week, they displayed clearly riskier behavior in comparison with a normal sleep duration of about eight hours. Twice a day, they had to choose between 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. The riskier the decision, the higher the possible prize – but also the risk of getting nothing.

While a single sleepless night had no effect on risk-seeking, 11 of 14 of the subjects behaved significantly and increasingly riskier as the week of a reduced sleep duration went on. An additional finding is particularly alarming: The students assess their risk-taking behavior to be the same as under regular sleep conditions.

“We therefore do not notice ourselves that we are acting riskier when suffering from a lack of sleep,” emphasizes Christian Baumann, professor of neurology and the head of the Clinical Research Priority Programs (CRPP) “Sleep and Health” at UZH.  “The good news is that, in the high-powered world of managers, getting enough sleep is increasingly being seen as desirable.”

Source: News Release