Sleep Deprived Judges Hand Out Harsher Sentences

The implications go way beyond the criminal justice system.

If you ever find yourself in court, you’d better hope your judge got a good night’s rest. Judges who are even slightly sleep deprived hand out longer sentences, according to a recent study published in the journal Psychological Science.

Image courtesy of Unsplash

To test their theory that sleep deprived people treat others more harshly, the researchers analyzed nearly 10 years worth of judges’ sentencing data, according to one of the study’s authors who wrote about their findings in Harvard Business Review.

Judges aren’t asked about their sleep before they put on their robes for the day (though based on this study maybe they should be), so the researchers used a creative control method: daylight savings time.

“Spring forward” happens at 2 a.m. on a Sunday morning and we lose about 40 minutes of sleep that Sunday night, according to research estimates. This creates what the researchers call “Sleepy Monday.” The research team found that Sleepy Monday sentences were about five percent longer than sentences from other Mondays, suggesting that even a little bit of lost sleep can lead to harsher punishments.

The researchers note that this effect may be stronger in business settings where, unlike our court system, the people in charge aren’t trained to put justice first. Their suggestion: Hold off on passing judgements until you’ve had a good night’s rest. Whether you’re disciplining an employee who made a mistake or responding to an unfair critique from your boss, if you want to make fair decisions, it’s best to sleep on it first.

Read more about the study here.