Lack of Sleep May be Precursor to Risk-Seeking Behavior

Researchers from the University of Zurich, have connected a lack of sleep to an increase in risk-seeking behavior.1 Decreased sleep quality and amount is known to impact many physiological aspects of health, including metabolism, immune health, and injury repair. It is also a vital component of maintaining mental health, with concentration, and mental dexterity declining noticeably from sleep deprivation; memory is also compromised. However, the sleep scientists conducting this study found that, while many of these other components are easily recognizable, individuals suffering from sleep loss may be more likely to make riskier choices, without noticing that their choice behavior has changed.

Average Hours of Sleep

Young adults typically require an average of 9 hours of sleep a night, while older adults, over 30, on average require 7.5 hours. The research study looked at 14 individuals from ages 18-28, all or good health. The participants were asked to choose between options of which equated to gambling, with various levels of safety (not losing money) or risk (losing everything, with the possibility of gaining more). These “questions” were given twice a day. It was noted that a single day of getting only 5 hours of sleep did not change behavior, however as a week of lower sleep went on, participants were much more likely to choose riskier options. As the choice behavior began to change, the participants were not subjectively aware of their increased tendency towards risk taking.

Prefrontal Cortex May Need Adequate Recovery Time During Sleep to Avoid Risky Repercussions

The researchers hypothesize this finding is likely due to the prefrontal cortex not being given adequate time to recover at night during sleep, leading to decreased higher reasoning ability upon waking, and throughout the day. The repercussions of this are widespread, and could be affecting things like managerial decision making, driving decisions, financial decisions (both personally and professionally), and decisions to partake in risky behavior such as drugs or sex. Certainly more support for getting a good night’s sleep.


  1. Angelina Maric, Eszter Montvai, Esther Werth, Matthias Storz, Janina Leemann, Sebastian Weissengruber, Christian C. Ruff, Reto Huber, Rositsa Poryazova, Christian R. Baumann. Insufficient sleep: Enhanced risk-seeking relates to low local sleep intensity. Annals of Neurology. 21 August 2017. DOI: 10.1002/ana.25023
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Node Smith, ND, is a naturopathic physician in Portland, OR and associate editor for NDNR. He has been instrumental in maintaining a firm connection to the philosophy and heritage of naturopathic medicine among the next generation of docs. He helped found the first multi-generational experiential retreat, which brings elders, alumni, and students together for a weekend camp-out where naturopathic medicine and medical philosophy are experienced in nature. Four years ago he helped found the non-profit, Association for Naturopathic ReVitalization (ANR), for which he serves as the board chairman. ANR has a mission to inspire health practitioners to embody the naturopathic principles through experiential education. Node also has a firm belief that the next era of naturopathic medicine will see a resurgence of in-patient facilities which use fasting, earthing, hydrotherapy and homeopathy to bring people back from chronic diseases of modern living; he is involved in numerous conversations and projects to bring about this vision.

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