Sleep deprivation is known to have a negative impact on health, particularly cardiovascular health, but a new study has shed light on another possible side effect of sleep deprivation: an increase in risk-seeking behavior.

Researchers from the University of Zurich analyzed 14 males for 2 weeks, one week with 5 hours of sleep each night and one week with 8 hours of sleep each night. Participants were tasked twice a day to choose between obtaining a specified amount of money paid out with a given probability or being more cautious and choosing a lower amount of money that would be paid out for sure.

The results showed that as the week of 5 hours of sleep a night progressed, the participants increasingly started to choose the riskier option. However, participant self-assessment indicated that the subjects believed their risk-taking behavior was no different to when they slept the 8 hours. 

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The authors emphasized the importance of this lack of awareness surrounding risky behavior. “We should therefore all strive for a sufficient sleep duration – especially political and economic leaders who make wide-reaching decisions daily.”

Co-author Christian Baumann, head of the Clinical Research Programs of Sleep and Health at the University of Zurich concluded, “We assume that behavioral changes occur for anatomical-functional reasons to some extent as a result of the right prefrontal cortex not being able to recover properly due to a chronic lack of sleep.”

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