January 22, 2014
Late Night Smartphone Work Disrupts Sleep, Drains Productivity
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online
Working on a smartphone late at night can ruin a good night’s sleep and drain productivity the following day, according to new research from the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business.
“Smartphones are enormously valuable for helping people fit work activity into times and places outside of the office,” the researchers said. “However, our new research indicates the greater connectivity comes at a cost: using a smartphone to cram more work into a given evening results in less work done the next day,” the researchers wrote in a Harvard Business Review blog post summarizing the study’s findings.
“Smartphones are bad for sleep, and sleep is very important to effectiveness as an employee.”
Lead researcher Christopher Barnes, assistant professor of management at the UW’s Foster School of Business, said smartphones are almost perfectly designed to disrupt sleep. They keep us mentally engaged with work late into the evening, making it harder to detach, relax, and get the deep sleep needed to recharge our mental batteries.
They also encourage poor sleep hygiene, a set of behaviors that make it harder to both fall asleep and stay asleep. Perhaps the most difficult aspect of smartphones when it comes to sleep is that they expose us to light, including blue light, which in even small amounts inhibits the sleep-promoting chemical melatonin.
Barnes and colleagues conducted two studies to evaluate the effect of late night smartphone work on sleep and productivity. In the first study, 82 mid- to high-level managers completed multiple daily surveys over the course of two weeks. The results confirmed that late night smartphone use cut into sleep and made the managers tired and less engaged in work the following day.
In the second study, 161 employees from a variety of occupations (both managers and non-managers) completed the same set of surveys, with the addition of measures of late night usage of television, laptop computers and tablets. The results showed that the harmful effects of smartphones on sleep and work engagement held true even after accounting for these other electronic devices. Indeed, out of all those devices, smartphones were associated with the most powerful effects.
The researchers advise managers to find new ways to balance the positive and negative aspects of smartphone use, such as adopting a predictable time off each day and a set time to power down and psychologically disengage from work. They also recommend establishing new norms for times employees are expected to respond to e-mails and other messages.
“As smartphones become more embedded in our daily lives, we should continue to seek solutions that will enable us to stay in touch with smartphones and still get the sleep we need to be effective the next day,” they wrote.
“In contrast to a short-term perspective that puts the current work item as the top priority, a perspective that focuses on longer-term performance will leave more room for managing smartphones in a manner that preserves sleep.”
“The more important the job, the more important it is to work with a fresh brain. We would do well to remember that, and not let our phones call the shots.”
A report about the study, entitled: “Beginning the Workday yet Already Depleted? Consequences of Late-Night Smartphone Use and Sleep,” will be published later this year in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.