[Oct. 26, 2023: Staff Writer, The Brighter Side of News]Thank you for reading this post, don't forget to subscribe!
Getting more sleep seems to provide great benefits. (Credit: Creative Commons)
While many people experience increased energy, emotional stability, and an improved sense of well-being when they get more sleep, a recent study co-authored by MIT economists challenges this notion. The study, which was conducted in Chennai, India, involved a unique field experiment that examined the effects of increased sleep on low-income workers.
Despite managing to increase participants’ nightly sleep by half an hour, the study found that this increase did not improve their work productivity, earnings, financial decision making, overall well-being or blood pressure. The only noticeable effect was a reduction in the number of working hours.
The study was conducted by observing the participants’ daily routines in their homes, making it a unique and valuable field experiment. Despite the significant increase in sleep time, researchers found that this increase was not enough to produce the positive effects typically associated with getting more sleep. Rather, the results suggest that more sleep alone is not enough to improve work productivity, financial decision making, or overall well-being.
“To our surprise, these nighttime sleep interventions had no positive effect on any of the outcomes we measured,” said Frank Schilbach, an MIT economist and co-author of the recent study.
However, research also shows that taking short naps during the day can increase productivity and well-being. Additionally, the challenging conditions disrupted participants’ nighttime sleep. Studies indicate that it may be beneficial to help individuals achieve better quality sleep rather than increasing their total amount of poor quality sleep.
Schilbach suggests that in Chennai, where people’s sleep quality is quite low, the benefits of adding poor-quality sleep may not be as effective as adding another half hour of high-quality sleep.
A paper titled “Economic consequences of increased sleep deprivation among the urban poor” has been published in The Quarterly Journal of Economics. Authors of the paper include Pedro Besson, who recently received his PhD from MIT’s Department of Economics; Gautam Rao, Associate Professor of Economics at Harvard University; Schilbach, Gary Loveman Career Development Associate Professor of Economics at MIT; Heather Schofield, assistant professor at the Perelman School of Medicine and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania; and Matti Toma, PhD candidate in economics at Harvard University.’
An experiment on the working poor in India shows that when it comes to sleep, quality matters more than quantity. (Credit: Creative Commons)
sleeping on a rickshaw
Schilbach, a development economist, explains that the idea for the study arose from prior research he conducted with his team in places like Chennai. In their investigation, they observed that individuals with limited financial resources often face obstacles when attempting to get adequate sleep. This problem adds to the challenges that these individuals already face on a daily basis.
“In Chennai, you can see people sleeping on their rickshaws,” says Schilbach, who is also a faculty associate at MIT’s Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL). “Often, there are four or five people sleeping in the same room where there is a lot of noise and noise, you see people sleeping between road stretches next to the highway. It is incredibly hot here even at night and there are a lot of mosquitoes. Basically, in Chennai, you can find any potentially disturbing or adverse sleep factor.
This figure presents an overview of the study timeline and experimental design. (Credit: The Quarterly Journal of Economics)
The researchers used actigraphs, which are wristwatch-like devices that determine sleep status from body movements, to conduct their study on residents of Chennai. This approach enabled the team to observe individuals in their natural home environments, unlike many other sleep studies, which observe participants in laboratory settings.
During the study, 452 individuals were observed for a period of one month. The participants were divided into two groups; One group was given incentives and tips to improve sleep, while the other group received financial incentives to increase their sleep duration. Additionally, some members of both groups were allowed to take daytime naps, which were monitored to determine their effects on sleep quality.
This figure shows the average of different sleep-related variables for different treatment arms by day in the RCT study. All results are actigraph measures. (Credit: The Quarterly Journal of Economics)
Additionally, to analyze the impact of sleep on workers’ productivity and earnings, participants were assigned flexible data-entry jobs during the study. This allowed researchers to closely examine the relationship between sleep and work performance at a detailed level.
Overall, in the Chennai study, the average nightly sleep duration of participants before the intervention was about 5.5 hours. After the intervention, participants experienced an increase in sleep duration of an average of 27 minutes per night. However, to achieve this increase, participants spent an additional 38 minutes in bed per night. With an average of 31 awakenings per night, the participants’ sleep was further disrupted due to their fragmented sleep patterns.
According to Schilbach, one of the study’s researchers, a notable finding is the low sleep efficiency among participants, with very little of the time required for deep sleep to yield restorative benefits. Despite spending more time in bed due to the intervention, participants’ sleep quality remained unchanged, and the increase in sleep quantity was primarily due to the additional time spent in bed.
According to the researchers, based on various metrics, individuals did not experience any significant improvements despite sleeping more. Instead, as Schilbach explained, they faced negative impacts on their work hours. If they spend more time sleeping, they have less time for other aspects of their lives.
In contrast, study participants who were allowed to take a nap during a data-entry task performed better in several measured categories.
Schilbach says, “In contrast to nighttime sleep interventions, we find clear evidence of improvements in a range of outcomes from napping, including their productivity, their cognitive function and their psychological well-being, as well as some evidence on savings ” “These two interventions have different effects.”
On the one hand, naps were found to have a positive effect on the total income of workers who took time off. However, it should be noted that nappers are more productive per minute but spend less time on actual work, which does not increase their overall income.
“It’s not that the naps just pay for themselves,” says Schilbach. “People don’t actually stay longer at the office when they take a nap, probably because they have other things to do, like taking care of their families. If people nap for about half an hour, their work hours are reduced by about half an hour, almost a one-to-one ratio, and as a result, the earnings of people in that group are reduced.
treating sleep as an end in itself
Schilbach expressed a desire for other researchers to examine other issues raised in the study in more depth. Further research could attempt to modify the sleep status of low-wage workers to determine whether it has an impact on improving sleep quality, in addition to increasing sleep quantity.
Schilbach suggests that it is important to understand the psychological challenges that poor people face when it comes to sleep.
“Being poor is very stressful, and it can interfere with people’s sleep,” he said. “How environmental and psychological factors influence sleep quality is worth investigating.”
Furthermore, Schilbach suggests that by using actigraph technology and other devices, researchers could conduct more studies that simply observe people’s sleep patterns in their natural homes rather than in medical facilities.
“Not a lot of work has been done to study people’s sleep in their everyday lives,” says Schilbach. “And I really hope that people will study sleep more in developing countries and poor countries, focusing on the outcomes that people value.”
Schilbach would really like to further his sleep research in the United States, in addition to the extensive research he has done in India. He emphasizes the importance of sleep as an essential component of anti-poverty research and public policy, as well as an important aspect of overall well-being, no matter the setting.
“Sleep may be important as an opportunity for better productivity or other types of choices that people make,” Schilbach says. “But I think a good night’s sleep is also important in itself. We should give importance to getting good sleep and not worrying at night. Poverty indices are about income and material consumption. But now that we can measure sleep better, a good night’s sleep should be part of a more comprehensive measurement of people’s well-being. “I hope that’s where we’re going eventually.”
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