You’ve likely heard how important a good night’s sleep is for your health. But did you know enough sleep can also improve your ethical behavior and decision-making skills? Research is showing how much sleep you get, and whether you’re a morning person or a night owl, can significantly impact your state of mind.
Sleepiness can lead to unethical and harmful behavior.
One study surveyed a group of nurses before and after their work shifts. The results showed the nurses who had less than 6 hours of sleep the night before their shift were significantly more likely to commit deviant acts at work, such as making hurtful comments or intentionally working slowly.
Sleep deprivation is known to impair the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which supports your self-regulation and emotions. This reduces your ability to control negative moods and anger.
Lack of sleep also increases adenosine in your brain, a neuromodulator that decreases brain cell activity.
Interestingly, caffeine blocks adenosine receptors in your brain and increases the availability of glutamate, the brain’s main excitatory neurotransmitter. This is one of the ways coffee “perks you up”.
Caffeine can also enhance ethical behavior if you’re low on sleep. One study gave a group of sleep-deprived students some caffeine before they played a money-sharing game. They were significantly less likely to take deceptive, unethical action in the game than sleep-deprived players who had not taken any caffeine.
Although, researchers were quick to point out that a well-rested group who also played the game were the least likely to act deceptively. Getting enough sleep is still far better than covering up fatigue with caffeine.
Not sure if you’re getting enough sleep to function at your best? Find out if you’re sleep deprived and what to do about it.
Time of day makes a difference.
A 2014 study looked into whether or not the time of day affects people’s ethics and behavior. Researchers concluded that “morning people”, who have higher energy levels early in the day, tend to act most ethically in the morning. Whereas, night owls tend to be more ethical in the evening.
Your personal biology dictates whether you’re a morning or evening person. Pay attention to when you feel your energy naturally dropping. When you’re at a low point, it’s likely not the best time to make a decision on an important issue.
Time of day also affects the way you make decisions, regardless of your biological clock.
An Argentinian study found that you tend to make decisions slower and more accurately in the morning. Whereas, decisions made late in the day are faster but less accurate. It seems we’re wired to be more cautious and focused on accuracy early in the day. Then as the day goes on, we adopt a riskier approach and make more hasty decisions.
So, if you’re trying to make a decision about a complicated situation, make sure you resolve it before noon.