Sleep and volition

Poor sleep impacts on motivation

As we all know poor sleep, or a lack of sleep, impacts on motivation.  If the person has had poor sleep for a long time, has a lot of other problems, or has low expectations of how good their sleep should be, then they might not even mention having poor sleep.  So sometimes poor sleep can be an easily overlooked cause of motivational problems.

What are the client’s feelings about sleep?

Because sleeping is something we all do, and which we can take for granted unless it is going wrong, it is easy to assume other people view sleep in a reasonably similar way to us, however it was found that perspectives on what constitutes normal or acceptable sleep can vary widely.  Some feel ‘sleep is for wimps’, and the less the better.  Some flaunt sleep deprivation as socially desirable – a sign of being very busy and important.  At the opposite end of the spectrum, some feel – ‘the more the better’, because sleep is restorative.  Scientific evidence suggests that neither of extreme views are quite right, and that there are average amounts of sleep which are needed.  Although there is a lot of variation in people’s sleep needs, it is known that it is not a good idea to try to survive on 4hrs sleep a night, and it is rarely useful to have 14hrs sleep a night.

Undervaluing sleep

If your client undervalues sleep, or sees sleep as a waste of time, they may put themselves at risk of sleep deprivation.

Also if a person needs more sleep than usual for a period, such as due to illness, it is important for them to feel OK about this, and not criticise themselves too much, so that they can make any necessary adjustments.

Over valuing sleep

This is perhaps a more common problem; if people over-value sleep and get excessively worried about getting enough sleep this can be counter-productive and can lead to insomnia.

This may also be a contributing factor to hyper-somnia, if the person attributes any problems with their performance, or with how they feel, to a lack of sleep, they may try to get a lot more sleep than is really helpful for them.  Evidence suggests that both very short sleep, and excessive sleep can have a detrimental effects on health.


For more information about the amount of sleep we need see:

Buxton, O.M. & Marcelli, E., 2010. Short and long sleep are positively associated with obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease among adults in the United States. Social Science and Medicine, 71(5), pp.1027–1036.

Ferrara, M. & De Gennaro, L., 2001. How much sleep do we need? Sleep medicine reviews, 5(2), pp.155–179.

Horne, J., 2010. Habitual “short sleep”: Six hours is “safe.” Journal of Sleep Research, 19, pp.119–120.

Horne, J., 2013. Overnight sleep loss and “executive” decision making-subtle findings. Sleep, 36(6), pp.823–4.

Content on this page contributed primarily by Andrew Green and Sophie Faulkner.
Last updated June 2016.