How Sleep Can Help Your Decision Making
By McKenzie Dillon
The average adult, according to Psychology Today, makes about 35,000 decisions every single day. This number includes the small, mundane decisions like which shirt you should wear to work, to life-altering ones like which job offer you should accept or what home would be best for you and your family. We usually rely on our better judgement to help guide us to the right choice, but efficient decision making gets a little blurry when you’re running on fumes after a mere 5-6 hours of sleep. Sleep plays an important role in making sure your mind is sharp, rejuvenated, and fully functioning when you wake up in the morning so you’re more prepared to take on daily challenges that are thrown your way.
What Happens If You Don’t Get Enough Sleep?
You might notice a big difference in your demeanor and brain power when you only get five hours of sleep a night as opposed to the recommended 7-9 hours. But what actually goes on in your body during sleep that makes such a difference in the way you feel and act during the day? During the different stages of non-REM sleep, your body repairs muscle tissues, strengthens your immune system, and builds both muscles and bones. When you’re in REM sleep which happens about every 90 minutes, your brain is active and is helping improve memory retention, your ability to learn new information, your mood, and decision making.
Decision making with an unrested mind has proven to be a little reckless, and unbeneficial for all aspects of your day-to-day. Therefore, if you’re having trouble sleeping, it’s important to identify the underlying cause and tackle it as soon as possible to prevent negative effects on your health and quality of life. Some causes of sleep deprivation are easy to identify like a body indentation in your memory foam mattress, but others may want to seek medical advice if they think the culprit is a social or sleep disorder.
If you aren’t fully convinced about the effect sleep has on your brain power, here’s some helpful information that might change your mind.
It Helps You Make Quicker and More Accurate Decisions
As an adult, you don’t expect to be quick on your feet after you’ve taken a few shots or knocked back a couple of cold ones. Let’s just say you probably aren’t the most valuable player on the trivia team after consuming alcohol, as your brain works slower under the influence than it does when you’re in a sober state of mind. Though, you may be surprised to know that sleep deprivation has the same effect on your response time as alcohol does, and can even be more harmful for your decision making.
The National Sleep Foundation reports that people who are even mildly sleep deprived have a 50% slower response time than usual, and make more mistakes when performing easy tasks than somebody who’s inebriated. So if you aren’t comfortable making important decisions when you’re drunk, the same logic should apply to sleepy decision making.
Additionally, when it comes to split decisions like “this car is about to crash into me if I don’t do something” type of ones, a full night's sleep enables you to make more accurate by 4%. While this may not seem like a significant number on paper, it makes all the difference when you’re in the moment.
It Helps You Think Smarter
A full night’s sleep gives you an advantage in situations where there isn’t necessarily a right or wrong decision, but there’s a smart one that leads to a higher return -- whether it’s money, respect, or higher accolades. This type of decision making happens often in the workplace, and a lack of sleep among employees and managers actually ends up costing the United States about $411 billion a year in economic losses because of poor business decisions.
In one telling experiment, two groups of people were asked to make a choice every day -- did they want to receive a set dollar amount of money, or did they want to take a gamble where they could either get even more money or receive nothing at all? The catch was that group one received a full eight hours of sleep a night, while group two only slept five hours. Sure enough, over the course of this five week experiment, those suffering from a lack of sleep became more likely to make the risky decision. They, however, didn’t even realize that their decision-making was changing. This goes to show, if you want to fully perform to the best of your abilities at work or other aspects of your life, you’re going to need your recommended 7-9 hours of sleep.
It Helps You Problem Solve
Have you ever had to make a tough choice that you fell asleep thinking about, only to wake up a little more clear minded, bearing the solution? It wasn’t a coincidence, and it’s the reason why people will tell you to “sleep on it” before making an important decision. As you already know, our brains are overloaded with a ton of information every single day. As a result, some of that information is stored in a part of the brain that isn’t immediately accessible on the spot. According to researchers at Lancaster University in England, your brain is able to access this information during sleep, allowing you to come up with a solution that you might not have initially thought of.
McKenzie Dillon is a blogger and sleep enthusiast for The Slumber Yard, a leading bedding reviews website. When she’s not sleeping, McKenzie likes attending comedy shows, hiking and cooking.
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