Sleep, Response Inhibition & the Quality of Your Decisions

The frontal lobes of the brain (forebrain) is where we make all our decisions. Neuroscientists refer to these decision-making processes as “executive functions”. We may not be executives at a global corporation, but our personal success in life definitely depends on the quality of our daily decisions.

Boy sleeping in bed. One of these executive functions is called response inhibition. This is our ability to say “No” to inappropriate actions that might interfere with our goals. Think of it like this: a young person sets the goal of finishing college. But if, when they find themselves surrounded by alcohol or drugs they just can’t seem to say “No, thanks” — then being drunk and high will have a negative impact on their grades.

But what about the things we do now that don’t seem to have any bad effects? Could our choices today influence our response inhibition years later?

The April 5 issue of Alcoholism, Clinical and Experimental Research carried a fascinating report about over-tiredness in children and its impact on them years later. The study followed almost 400 high risk boys and girls from childhood to young adulthood.

Kids who had sleep problems as children were twice as likely to have sleep problems in adolescence. Over-tiredness in childhood directly predicted higher alcohol use and alcohol-related problems in young adulthood. Lack of sleep for kids and teens also increased the rate of negative drug use when they grew up. 

Is it possible that irregular schedules, combined with watching TV and playing video or computer games, are robbing our children of the sleep they need and setting them up for substance abuse later on? What important choices will they fail to make as adults because their response inhibition has been impaired from lack of sleep?

Are you sometimes frustrated that the choices you make seem to interfere with your goals? Perhaps you need more sleep — for today and the future!