Sleep Disorders

09 March 2011

Sleep deprivation encourages risky decisions

Sleep deprivation may lead to overly optimistic thinking that fails to properly consider the potential consequences of financial risks, a new study suggests.


Sleep deprivation may lead to overly optimistic thinking that fails to properly consider the potential consequences of financial risks, a new study suggests.

Duke University researchers assessed the effects of sleep deprivation on 29 adult volunteers who were asked to take part in several economic decision-making tasks in the morning after a normal night of sleep and again one morning after a night of sleep deprivation.

Using functional MRI scans to study brain activity, they found that those suffering from lack of sleep had increased activity in regions that assess positive outcomes and decreased activity in regions that process negative outcomes.

It's long been known that sleep deprivation can alter decision-making skills and impair certain thinking abilities such as attention and memory, but this study focused on the way in which lack of sleep may also impact financial decision-making, the study authors noted.

The study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, may be bad news for certain people, such as all-night gamblers, said the researchers.

Gambling and sleep loss

"Late-night gamblers are fighting more than just the unfavourable odds of gambling machines; they are fighting a sleep-deprived brain's tendency to implicitly seek gains while discounting the impact of potential losses," lead author Vinod Venkatraman, a graduate student in psychology and neuroscience, said.

"Counter-measures that combat fatigue and improve alertness may be inadequate for overcoming these decision biases."

Casinos use lots of tricks to encourage people to take risks with their money, such as free alcohol, flashy lights and sounds, and using chips or electronic credits instead of real money, noted co-author Scott Huettel, an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience and director of the Duke Center for Interdisciplinary Decision Sciences.

"Sleep deprivation surely makes gambling even more tempting for many people," Huettel said.

(Copyright © 2010 HealthDay. All rights reserved.)


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Dr Alison Bentley is a general practitioner who has consulted in sleep medicine and sleep disorders, in both adults and children of all ages, for almost 30 years. She also researches and publishes on a number of sleep-related topics both in formal research journals and lay publications including as editor of Sleep Matters, an educational newsletter on sleep disorders for doctors.

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