Sleep Apnoea / Poor Quality Sleep Impairs Moral Judgement

Wed, Mar 09, 2011

It has long been known that poor quality or insufficient sleep can have an adverse impact on a person’s physical health and emotional well-being.  But recent research published in the journal SLEEP (the official journal of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society) shows that bad sleep has a direct impact on our ability to make moral judgements.

The study, conducted by Dr William Killgore, PhD, at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, found that sleep deprivation resulted in significantly longer response latencies (suggesting greater difficulty deciding upon a course of action) for moral personal dilemmas.

According to Dr Killgore, the findings suggest that sleep deprivation has a particularly debilitating effect on judgment and decision making processes that depend heavily upon the integration of emotion with cognition.

According to Dr. Killgore, these findings do not suggest that sleep deprivation leads to a decline in “morality” or in the quality of moral beliefs, but a latency to respond and the change in the leniency or permissiveness of response style as evidenced by the tendency to decide that particular courses of action were “appropriate” before and after sleep loss.

“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,” said Killgore.