Objectives: Chronic sleep restriction is highly prevalent in modern society and is in its clinical form, insufficient sleep syndrome, one of the most prevalent diagnoses in clinical sleep laboratories, with substantial negative impact on health and community burden. It reflects every-day sleep loss better than acute sleep deprivation, but its effects and particularly the underlying mechanisms remain largely unknown for a variety of critical cognitive domains, as for example risky decision-making.

Methods: We assessed financial risk-taking behavior after 7 consecutive nights of sleep restriction and after one night of acute sleep deprivation compared to a regular sleep condition in a within-subject design. We further investigated potential underlying mechanisms of sleep loss induced changes in behavior by high-density electroencephalography recordings during restricted sleep.

Results: We show that chronic sleep restriction increases risk-seeking, while this was not observed after acute sleep deprivation. This increase was subjectively not noticed and was related to locally lower values of slow wave energy during preceding sleep, an electrophysiological marker of sleep intensity and restoration, in electrodes over the right prefrontal cortex.

Interpretation: This study provides for the first time evidence that insufficient sleep restoration over circumscribed cortical areas leads to aberrant behavior. In chronically sleep restricted subjects, low slow wave sleep intensity over the right prefrontal cortex – which has been shown to be linked to risk behavior – may lead to increased and subjectively unnoticed risk-seeking. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.


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