One night of sleep loss impairs innovative thinking and flexible decision making

Organ Behav Hum Decis Process. 1999 May;78(2):128-45. doi: 10.1006/obhd.1999.2827.


Recent findings with clinically oriented neuropsychological tests suggest that one night without sleep causes particular impairment to tasks requiring flexible thinking and the updating of plans in the light of new information. This relatively little investigated field of sleep deprivation research has real-world implications for decision makers having lost a night's sleep. To explore this latter perspective further, we adapted a dynamic and realistic marketing decision making "game" embodying the need for these skills, and whereby such performance could be measured. As the task relied on the comprehension of a large amount of written information, a critical reasoning test was also administered to ascertain whether any failure at the marketing game might lie with information acquisition rather than with failures in decision making. Ten healthy highly motivated and trained participants underwent two counterbalanced 36 h trials, sleep vs no sleep. The critical reasoning task was unaffected by sleep loss, whereas performance at the game significantly deteri orated after 32-36 h of sleep loss, when sleep deprivation led to more rigid thinking, increased perseverative errors, and marked difficulty in appreciating an updated situation. At this point, and despite the sleep-deprived participants' best efforts to do well, their play collapsed, unlike that of the nonsleep-deprived participants. Copyright 1999 Academic Press.