Sleep Restriction Reduces Cognitive but Not Physical Motivation

Mindaugas Jurgelis, Johanna M. Boardman, James P. Coxon, Sean P.A. Drummond, Trevor T.J. Chong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: Motivation is an important driver of behaviour, and several frameworks distinguish the willingness of individuals to invest cognitive versus physical effort to achieve a goal. One outstanding question is whether sleep loss lowers motivation within specific domains of effort, or has a global effect on motivation across multiple domains. Here, we investigated the effects of sleep restriction on the motivation to invest cognitive or physical effort in return for reward. Materials and Methods: 24 healthy young adults (11 females) completed an effort-based decision-making task over two laboratory sessions – once while sleep restricted (three consecutive nights with a three-hour sleep opportunity), and the other while fully rested (nine-hour sleep opportunity on each night). In an initial reinforcement phase, participants were trained to ceiling performance across six levels of effort on separate cognitively and physically demanding tasks. Then, in the critical decision-making phase, participants revealed their preference for how much cognitive or physical effort they would be willing to invest for reward. Results: Sleep restriction reduced the willingness to exert cognitive effort, but spared motivation in the physical domain. Furthermore, the reduction in cognitive motivation appeared to be a primary motivational deficit, which could not be attributed to differences in reward-likelihood of different levels of effort or the temporal structure of the task. Conclusion: The results suggest that sleep restriction has a selective effect on cognitive over physical motivation, which has significant implications for real-world settings in which individuals must maintain high levels of cognitive motivation in the face of chronic sleep loss.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2001-2012
Number of pages12
JournalNature and Science of Sleep
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • cognitive effort
  • effort-based decision-making
  • physical effort
  • sleep loss

Cite this