Sleep Deprivation Is Making You Lie, Cheat, & Steal

Illustration for article titled Sleep Deprivation Is Making You Lie, Cheat, & Steal

It's been established that sleep deprivation is bad for your health, but scientists have discovered another fun side effect: It leads to more "deviant behavior."


Researchers at the University of North Carolina and the University of Arizona looked at groups of nurses and students who had pulled all-nighters and found they were more prone to unethical behavior like rudeness, theft, vandalism, and violence.

The Washington Post reports:

How does this happen? [The researchers] write that sleep deprivation results in lower brain functioning, particularly in the prefrontal cortex, which contains the parts of the brain that control "executive" functions, such as inhibiting emotion and behavior. Sleep deprivation reduces the metabolism of glucose, which acts as brain food for these functions.

And few of us are getting the sleep we need. Between 1999 and 2009, the percentage of Americans who sleep less than six hours a night increased from 13% to 20%, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Other statistics from the National Sleep Disorders Research Plan suggest accidents and productivity losses due to sleep deprivation costs the U.S. economy $150 billion annually. And those numbers don't even reflect the losses from employees stealing printer paper and highlighters from the office supply room — due to sleep-related ethical lapses, of course.

Why Sleep Deprivation Can Make You Unethical [Washington Post]

Image via Sergey Mironov/Shutterstock.



Oookay. Sleep deprivation will not force you to become a lying, cheating, swindling machine. Sleep deprivation causes poor functioning in the prefrontal cortex, which controls impulse and inhibition. The most common symptom of this is irritability - not because you are actually getting more pissed off than you would if you had enough sleep, but because you are not checking yourself before you express every minute displeasure.

In terms of the lying and cheating stuff... I think that really depends on the person. ADHD involves poor function in the prefrontal cortex as well, and people with ADHD, myself included, tend to take much higher risks. We are overly impulsive. One aspect of impulsivity is to lie to cover something up - you do something wrong, you get caught, your first instinct is self-preservation. When I was a child I lied constantly, not because I was an evil kid, but because I would do things without thinking, that I wasn't supposed to do, then when I would get caught, I would freak out and do the first thing that came to mind - say I didn't do it. For the vast majority of people, particularly when you're just living your normal life and you aren't in the type of situation where, say, your entire family is in mortal danger in front of your eyes, your first instinct is to help yourself.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm a humanist - I believe that people are good and kind, because I believe that when your prefrontal cortex is working properly, its entire purpose is to adjust for that initial selfishness. It's all one brain, it all works together - and when it's working properly, you don't throw yourself ahead of everybody else mindlessly. But for some of us, that take a lot more deliberate work and often medication.

My suspicion is that with sleep deprivation, a person may be more inclined to lie, cheat, or steal, but not out of maliciousness or intent to harm somebody else.

TL;DR: This write-up is crap, go read about the prefrontal cortex.