How Sleep Affects Your Willpower

For 2 weeks every year some of the best and brightest minds in the world suddenly lose their willpower. It happens to future leaders of corporations, of the legal system, and the government.

During final exams at Universities across the world, students seem to lose all self-control.

They indulge in sugar, fat, and caffeine; while also skipping the gym and leaving their cleaning duties to another time. Their stress and cravings increase, while also losing their tempers with one another over the smallest of details.

It’s as if all willpower becomes lost as they cut back their sleep to cram for their tests.


It’s no coincidence that sleep-deprived students lose their self-control during finals week.

When you don’t get enough sleep, your pre-frontal cortex (the part of your brain you use to exert willpower) is severely damaged.

Your brain cells are not able to absorb glucose – what the brain uses for fuel – as efficiently. So you begin to lose the "power" in your willpower. 

Then, your brain will recognize that it’s not getting enough glucose, and immediately start to crave fat, sugar and caffeine to replenish its supply. This is why you’ll find pizza boxes and coffee cups lined across our college campuses during finals week. The students’ brains need refueling! 

Then there’s even worse news.

Because your brain cells aren’t absorbing glucose as efficiently as they should be, not only will you give in to eating pizza, you will eat much more than you need! Your brain will continue to crave until it gets as much glucose as it can out of your bloodstream – regardless of how many calories that may be. [1]


As much as those calories may take a hit to your waistline, you will need all of the glucose you can get to manage your decreased focus and self-control.  [2]

Sleep deprivation leads to what is called “mild prefrontal dysfunction” a state where your brain is unable to regulate your emotions or attention as easily. Essentially, this state of mind is like being drunk – which is not exactly the best state for self-control! [3]

So you will be less focused and more likely to get frustrated when working on challenging tasks. This, of course, leads to a lack of productivity as well as getting mad or upset with those around us.

So even though students, professionals, and everyone else who is sleep deprived in our society, may think they'll be more successful by cutting back on sleep, the scientific evidence is clear. The less sleep you get, the less success you can expect.


The obvious answer to this question is GET MORE SLEEP!  

But as we know, getting more sleep is not that easy. We all have many pulls on our time, and sometimes we just can’t magically add more hours of sleep to our busy schedules.

So here are 4 scientifically proven tactics that will help you get more rest from the sleep that you can get:


In order to revitalize the body and mind a tactic you can use is meditation. Research shows that just 10 minutes of meditation when sleep deprived will have significant benefits on your pre-frontal cortex’s ability to function properly. [4]

You can find all of the benefits of meditation and learn how to get started by reading this article.


Most of us underestimate the affect that lights have on our sleep. When your room is completely dark, it helps your brain shut down and sleep more efficiently. This helps you get more rest out of the hours we lay in bed; helping to restore your willpower. [5]

3. NAP

Other research suggests that it is the amount of consecutive hours you spend awake that matters the most. So breaking up the day with a nap can have significant benefits. It is better to sleep for 7 hours with a 1-hour nap than it is to sleep for 8 consecutive hours without taking that break during the day. [6]


Getting more sleep on the weekend will create a reserve of energy your brain can use for willpower during the week. So if you cannot squeeze more hours of sleep in during the week, see if you can catch up on the weekend. [7]


There is no “one-size-fits-all“ solution for ideal sleep. As this infographic from DistrubMeNot shows, many famous people throughout history used a different sleep habit to achieve success. The important thing is that they experimented to find what was right for them. So don’t be afraid to take a couple of ideas from this list and give it a try!


The importance of a good night’s sleep has been proven again and again by scientists. If you’re surviving on less than 6 hours of sleep per night and find it challenging to resist temptations or maintain your focus, you could be setting yourself up for failure.

In these situations, many people will blame themselves for not having enough willpower, when really they should be blaming their sleeping schedules!

If you cannot find the time to add more sleep into your daily routine, try meditating, making your room completely dark, napping or building a reservoir of sleep on the weekend.

Although these are not fail-safe replacements for more daily sleep, they have been proven to strengthen your willpower. To avoid the fate of the sleep deprived students, that may be all you need!