Falling asleep requires the ability to manage our thoughts, behaviors, and emotions. Many insomnia sufferers struggle to fall asleep because their minds are filled with thoughts, worries, and anxiety — often about sleep itself.
Because sleep deprivation is linked to diminished self-control and increased emotional instability, researchers have been pondering whether sleep deprivation can lead to negative behaviors associated with a lack of self-regulation, such as problem gambling. This led to a study published in the Journal of Gambling Studies in 2015.
In the study, researchers recruited 59 people from a gambling rehabilitation facility. Gambling habits were measured using two types of questionnaires. The first was the Problem Gambling Severity Index, which includes questions such as “Have you bet more than you could really afford to lose?’’ Responses were measured on a scale ranging from zero (never) to three (almost always). The second questionnaire was the South Oaks Gambling Screen, which includes 20 questions such as “Have you ever borrowed from someone and not paid them back as a result of your gambling?’’ Responses were measured with a yes or no answer. A final score of zero indicated no pathological gambling, a score of one to four indicated an individual was at risk of pathological gambling, and a score of five or more indicated pathological gambling.
Sleep quality was measured using the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index and the Sleep Hygiene Index. Self-regulatory capacity, arousability, and mental health were also assessed using clinically validated questionnaires.
After analyzing the results, researchers found that having a low self-regulatory capacity was significantly associated with a high score for problem gambling and greater sleep difficulties.
Additional effects of sleep deprivation and reduced self-regulatory capacity
Unhealthy gambling is just one potential side effect of sleep issues — there are likely many more problems associated with compromised self-control and insomnia.
When self-control is compromised it can increase our vulnerability to temptation. Sleep deprivation makes us more likely to purchase high-calorie foods and makes us more sensitive to food rewards. Studies have also found that chronic sleep deprivation can make problem solving and decision making more difficult, and this can lead to riskier behaviors.
Relationships can also bear the consequences of poor sleep quality. Insomnia is associated with unhappy marriages — perhaps because of the negative impact poor sleep has on our ability to control our thoughts and actions. Sleep deprivation (and the resulting lack of self-control) has also been linked to an increased likelihood of cheating as well as other unethical behaviors in the workplace, such as falsifying receipts.
We tend to focus on the physical health risks associated with insomnia rather than how sleep deprivation affects our behavior. As this article has outlined, chronic sleep loss can have a very real impact on our ability to control our behavior. This can have grave consequences that can include problem gambling, overeating, cheating, and dishonesty at work.
All the more reason not to ignore any sleep problems you may be experiencing.
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Martin is the creator of Insomnia Land’s free insomnia sleep training. His online course uses CBT techniques to teach participants how to sleep better without relying on sleeping pills. More than 5,000 insomniacs have completed his course and 97 percent of graduates say they would recommend it to a friend.