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The Truth About Making Smart Decisions: Get Some Z's

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It’s not always easy to get a good night’s sleep. But if you don’t sleep, don’t decide.
This chapter is from the book

This sounds like something your mother would tell you, but now Mom has a team of researchers at her side to back up what she says. Studies show that students who get enough sleep before a test can achieve higher grades—even if they don’t study more. One of my study partners in college used to keep a jar of No-Doze on his desk and offer them around like candy during study sessions. Maybe he would have been better off just turning in early and arriving at the exam well rested.

Sleep deprivation, on the other hand, can lead to disastrous decisions. Three Mile Island happened on the night shift. Some of those who decided to launch the Challenger space shuttle had been awake for 72 hours. U.S. transportation studies find drowsiness a factor in nearly one-quarter of highway crashes and near accidents. Staying awake for more than 22 hours leads to the equivalent psychomotor performance of a 0.08 blood alcohol concentration. If you have a choice, wait until you have a good night’s sleep. If you have a big decision, don’t sit up all night worrying about it. Write it down and revisit it in the morning.

“Never make a serious decision when you are exhausted, tired, or sleep deprived,” said David F. Dinges, Ph.D., chief of the Division of Sleep and Chronobiology and head of the sleep lab at the University of Pennsylvania. “That is a Russian Roulette game. We will all make mistakes by virtue of our biological limits when we are sleep deprived.”

While ample rest is a simple idea, it’s hard to do in our 24/7, venti-double-latte-driven world. From a practical standpoint, it’s not always easy to get a good night’s sleep. But if you don’t sleep, don’t decide. Pay attention to your level of fatigue and make your decision when you’re well rested, if at all possible. Remember, huge disasters such as the Exxon Valdez oil spill and others were based on decisions made by managers who were very short on sleep.

The bottom line is to pay attention to your physical state when you’re making a decision. Are you dog tired? Your physical condition will affect your decisions. If possible, make sure your eyes are wide open before you step onto the court.

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