Don’t Make Decisions on a Tired Brain

(cross-posted from my private practice site.)

This article from Scientific American describes new research that suggests that if you wear your brain out with executive function activities, you might not want to make any big decisions right away. Even using your executive function for mundane self-control such as avoiding eating foods that are not good for you or following directions that tell you to ignore something that is mildly interesting, may have the effect of making you more susceptible to errors in judgment in subsequent decision-making.

This is news, but it also contains a message as old as human consciousness itself: when you are tired, rest. Forcing yourself to stay awake and perform tasks is a good way to end up making serious mistakes. Of course, taking a rest is often easier said than done. But bear in mind the option of putting off decision-making or major confrontations or attempts to solve seemingly-entrenched problems until you can come at them with a brain fully loaded with fresh executive function capability.

There’s also a wise old message for parents hidden in this research: put your children to bed. Help them settle down when they are tired. Do not try to discipline them or force them to use their executive function skills if it is the end of the day and they are unraveling. Better to let them get a good night’s sleep and start something challenging the next day, even if it means getting up earlier in the morning to make sure something is done for school.


2 thoughts on “Don’t Make Decisions on a Tired Brain

  1. Someone should tell that to hospital administrators with regard to interns,residents,and nurses.

  2. Someone should pass the word on to business as a whole. There is an entire movement towards the concept that all business (corporate, anyway) should be 24/7. People in corporations are expected to work as many hours as it takes to “Get The Job Done,” including nights, weekens, holidays, or whatever.

    Two consequences: family life suffers. The same people who profess to rever “family values” turn around and demand that workers ignore these same families all in the name of Work.

    Second, other studies show that, after working 50 hours per week for 3 weeks, productivity has diminished to the point that you’re not getting any more done in 50 hours than you were at 40.

    IOW: you are sacrificing your family to no apparent advantage. Plus, it’s not like you’re apt to benefit materially from all the extra time spent. Your boss will, and certainly your boss’s boss, but none of the monetary gains ever trickle down to those in the bottom 90%.

    That is the corporate world of today. And we laugh at those foolish Europeans because they actually want to enjoy their life. Yes, it’s one thing if this is what you choose to do, but it’s gone way beyond that. It’s becoming the normal expectation. I’m sorry, but that’s flat wrong.

    The only thing I’ll say about the practice in hospitals is that the idea is to train doctors to be able to make good decisions when mentally fried. Emergency situations don’t always show up at convenient times, like when you’re fresh and rested. The same is true with boot camp, or football practices, or whatever. Wear ’em out and see who makes the good decisions when under fire, or when it’s late in the 4th Qtr, etc.

    Now, I’m not sure if this theory works or not, but that, I believe, is the theory.

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