Why Sleep's Good for Business

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Blog Post - Why Sleep Matters

When it comes to making decisions, Captain Logic does like to think he’s in charge.  His role’s important, but he’s not as all-powerful as he might like to think…. I'm not much of a gambler, but I did find this fascinating....

Participants in a game called the Iowa gambling task were each given 4 decks of cards, and $2,000.  Each card turn tells a player whether they’ve won or lost money.  What they didn't know was that two of the decks were stacked with both high risk and high reward cards, and the other two with smaller rewards, and very occasional losses.  Drawing only from these two decks would eventually bring the gambler out ahead with stable profits.

At first, players drew randomly from all 4 decks, sampling from each pile as they searched for the most lucrative cards.  Within about 50 cards, they began to draw only from the more profitable decks, but it took until around the 80th card for them to become aware of it.  Showing beautifully how our outside-awareness thinking can shape our behaviour without us noticing.

However, as the experimenters’ aim was to track the emotion of decisions, they also wired up participants for readings of the skin’s electrical conductance, which increases with heightened anxiety.  By around the tenth card, players were showing increased anxiety as they reached towards the riskier piles, even though consciously, they had no awareness at all of the difference between decks.

Fascinating in itself, but they then repeated the study with a group of participants who’d been subjected to mild sleep deprivation.  The result?  No unconscious learning.  They continued to draw randomly from the 4 card decks throughout. 

OK, so they lost a little more money.  What’s that got to do with business?  How many roles in your organisation rely a degree of intuition or unconscious learning to do them really well?  And yet all it takes is a few hours lost sleep to hammer that innate capacity.

If you want to explore the full importance of sleep, one of the best books I’ve read in a long time is Matthew Walker’s “Why We Sleep”.  Or you can check out his TED talk here (thought if you’re watching in work, beware the opening being overheard!)

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