Greece debt crisis: Likelihood that all-night talks produced a good deal 'remote', sleep experts say

Sleep loss is associated with lack of empathy and failure to process information

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The likelihood of a decent deal arising after all-night talks held between Greek and European political leaders is remote, according to sleep experts commenting in the wake of the news that Greece is to remain in Europe.

Images of exhausted politicians, notably an unshaven Alexis Tsipras, Greek Prime Minister, and bleary-eyed Angela Merkel, German Chancellor, accompanied the announcement of a last minute agreement – reached in the early hours of Monday morning.

It came after 17 hours of discussions which began the day before. The phrase “all night talks” has become a familiar refrain during times of crisis – whether during the banking crisis in 2008 or the annual impasse when it comes to securing global agreements on climate change.


Even assuming that those taking part in the negotiations were fully rested, hammering out agreements in the early hours of the morning is never ideal, according to Professor Russell Foster, head of the Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute at Oxford University.

“They would have been functioning when the brain is not well adapted to function. Our ability to process information at four to six o’clock in the morning is worse than if we had had sufficient alcohol to make us drunk. That’s the drop in one’s cognitive abilities just with time of day, independent of fatigue,” he told The Independent.

Sleep loss is associated with impulsivity, lack of empathy, and a failure to adequately process information, according to Professor Foster. “The fact that they were working in the early hours of the morning meant that they could not possibly work at optimum performance,” he added.

And Professor Michael Chee, director of the centre for cognitive neuroscience at the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School, Singapore, commented: “Sleep deprivation is used by most militaries as a form of torture that leaves no marks but which can break the will of the toughest men. Yet diplomats negotiating deals that affect millions of people do this repeatedly? This appears either deliberate or extremely irresponsible. Some persons tolerate sleep deprivation better than others and it’s perhaps with this knowledge that some come to the table.”

He added: “In this particular instance, the reaching of a settlement has financial markets cheering but the question that needs to be asked is: Could a better deal have been arrived at with fresher negotiators? a game of last man standing does ‘unanimous decision’ mean what it says or that exhausted participants simply capitulated to the most insistent and persistent position?”