Sleeplessness Clouds Moral Choices

Armen Hareyan's picture

Too little sleep makes tough moral decisions that much tougher, a new study suggests.

"Our results simply suggest that when sleep deprived, individuals appear to be selectively slower in their deliberations about moral personal dilemmas relative to other types of dilemmas," study author William D.S. Kilgore, of Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, said in a prepared statement.


Previous research found that sleep deprivation can harm a person's physical health and emotional well-being. This study, published in the March 1 issue of Sleep, concluded that lack of sleep also hinders the ability to integrate emotion and cognition to guide moral judgments.

The study included 26 healthy adults who were asked to judge the appropriateness of different responses to three types of moral dilemmas. They did this while fully rested and then did it again after they'd been awake for 53 hours.

When sleep-deprived, the study participants took much longer to respond to the moral dilemmas, suggesting that it was much more difficult for them to decide on a course of action compared to when they were fully rested.

The findings don't indicate that sleep deprivation actually lowers a person's moral standards, the researchers said.