A bad night’s sleep can ruin your work day. Here’s what you can do about it: ScienceAlert
Think back to a night when you didn’t sleep well. How productive were you the next day? Was it difficult for you to start? Did the day drag on and on? Have you been procrastinating on Twitter or TikTok instead of doing your job?
If your answer to these questions is “yes”, you are not alone. While we don’t fully understand why we sleep, we do know that sleep is critical to our physical and mental functioning.
So how exactly does a night of poor sleep affect our performance the next day at work, and how can we counter any negative effects?
Research on organizational behavior has shown that sleep is essential for effective performance. For example, my colleagues and I conducted diary studies in which employees filled out questionnaires several times a day for several working weeks.
The results show that on days with good sleep versus poor days (i.e. higher sleep quality or duration), employees perform better on their core work tasks, are more engaged at work, and are more likely to support colleagues.
Meanwhile, lack of sleep increases the likelihood that employees will procrastinate and engage in unethical behavior, such as demanding credit for someone else’s work.
One study found that a few days after managers started sleeping worse, their employees were more likely to report instances of abusive behavior towards managers, such as negative feedback about them in front of other colleagues.
Sleep affects willpower
Sleep is especially important for the higher level cognitive skills we use to control and coordinate our thoughts and behaviors. An important cognitive skill that is especially dependent on good sleep is self-control, or willpower.
Much of what we do at work requires willpower. We need willpower to control our impulses and emotions, perform less pleasant or downright unpleasant tasks, and avoid distractions while we work.
Examples of situations that require willpower at work could include a person who works with clients and provides service with a smile, even if they are not actually in a good mood, or someone who works remotely, focusing on a difficult task, in while their children play in the background. .
Tips to function well after a bad night’s sleep
There are many studies that highlight the importance of good sleep and provide recommendations to improve sleep, such as not using smartphones before bed. But most of us will still have a bad night from time to time, especially if we’re feeling stressed. So how can we function well at work the next day?
1. Approach the tasks you are working on strategically
If possible, you should avoid work tasks that require willpower on days when you didn’t get enough sleep the night before. Instead, work on simple tasks that don’t require a lot of thought or attention.
If you can’t avoid tasks that require willpower, schedule them early in the day, as that’s when you’ll have more mental energy.
2. Rethink your mindset
Research shows that how people think about willpower determines their ability to use it.
One theory suggests that exercising willpower drains our mental energy, making us less likely and less able to exercise willpower further.
But people who firmly believe that willpower depends on limited mental resources feel more depleted after exercising willpower than people who believe that willpower depends on unlimited resources that can be easily rebuilt.
According to my research, employees who believe that willpower depends on unlimited resources thus perform better on sleep-deprived days.
So while researchers are still working to understand the limits of willpower, you might want to reconsider how strong willpower drains your mental energy.
3. If you can’t change yourself, change the situation.
If you’re on a diet, it’s easier not to buy chocolate from the supermarket right away than not to eat it every time you open your kitchen cabinet. Research has shown that people who are very good at willpower actually try to avoid situations that require it.
In an experiment where they were given the opportunity to work on a task in a room with few distractions, people who showed better willpower were more likely to choose a room with fewer distractions.
So, especially on sleep-deprived days, strategies that completely eliminate the need for willpower can help you be more productive and complete your work tasks.
4. Watch a funny video
Positive emotions can help restore our mental energy as they counteract the harmful effects of negative emotions.
In a recent study, my colleagues and I found that watching a funny video throughout the day can reduce the harmful mental impact of willpower-intensive work demands, and thereby increase employee productivity.
So on days when you’re not sleeping well, you might find it helpful to take a short break by watching a funny video when you feel like your mental energy is running low. But be careful not to get hooked.
Vladislav Rivkin, Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior, Trinity College Dublin
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.