Latin cultures seem to understand what Americans don’t: Getting enough sleep is vital for a quality life.

The next time  you are scolded at work by your boss for low production and claims that as the reason for not giving you a well-deserved raise, she may not be unfair. She may be sleepy.


A new study shows that when people, in this case college students, are sleepy they are more likely to think about how events could have turned out differently and ponder how situations could have been better. Depending on the outcome, they may blame others and even seek revenge. Researchers call this sleepy thinking ‘counterfactual.’

Irritability, moodiness and complaining are well researched side effect of sleepiness, but the new study is believed to be the first to explore how people actually think when they’re sleepy, says principal investigator David Mastin, associate professor of psychology at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. He presented the abstract last week at SLEEP 2011, the 25th anniversary meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies in Minneapolis.

“We need to realize that sleep deprivation is debilitating,” he says. “It causes people to have car accidents and make poor judgments. Would you want your supervisor reviewing you for a promotion when they are sleepy? They may say, ‘Quarterly sales were down last month and whose fault was that?’ If they are sleepy, they are more likely to seek revenge and not give you that raise.

“You hope the state trooper who pulls you over has had enough sleep. Now we can imagine how important it can be to understand how not having enough sleep affects us, the impact it can have on our marriages, the way we treat people in the workplace. During voir dire, should lawyers ask jurors how sleepy they are?”

Sherri Williams, a first-year mass communications Ph.D. student at Syracuse University, says she realized her thinking was stinking last week after she stayed up overnight to complete class work. She found herself mad at the world.

“I was extra aggravated by everything people did,” acknowledges Williams, 38. “I was mad at the phone company for charging me $120 to talk and text, and for having to pay $100 to watch TV each month. Then I remembered I had been awake for 27 hours.”

Mastin says other cultures, such as Latin cultures, seem to understand what Americans don’t: Getting enough sleep is vital for a quality life.

“They have siesta periods; in our culture we almost regard taking naps as childish,” he says. “As psychologists, we want to understand the human condition, and we should know what’s going on when people are sleepy.”

These study results mean researchers will focus more attention on people in professions that often require them to sacrifice sleep.

“Having no sleep can affect our motor coordination and can be as dangerous as driving under the influence of alcohol,” Mastin explains. “So we’re starting to pay attention to truck drivers and air plane pilots and physicians who are sleepy. We would never tolerate somebody being drunk in the workplace. But sleepy? We don’t give it a second thought.”

Photo credit: Discovery