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We’ve all heard the phrase “the early bird gets the worm”. But humans are certainly not birds, so how accurate can this comparison really be as a reasonable predictor of productivity? “Early to bed, early to rise” is also a phrase that comes to mind when traits of highly successful people are discussed. What about those of us who are not naturally able to tuck in early, instantly fall into a deep slumber, and spring out of bed at the crack of dawn? Does waking up at 11 a.
m. make those individuals automatically lazy or less productive or is there more to it? Present-day society holds us to a sleep schedule that is relatively outdated, originally instituted by the needs of an agricultural economy that truly benefitted from every single ray of light proffered.
A perfect example of this institution is the unquestioned observance of daylight savings each fall and spring. Present day working conditions present us with much different requirements.
Our economy is no longer driven by the needs of farmers or an industrial era. In fact, we are currently more driven than ever by the need for global connectivity, communicating at all hours of the day and night with those who are many time zones away. This new focus on a globalized economy has demanded a significant, rapid change in the way that work is approached by companies who want to keep up. As a result, there has been much investigation into the potential benefits of flexible work hours and working from home.
A study by Bloom et al. (2014) indicated that call center employees in China who worked from home had a 13% increase in performance. 9% of this increase was accounted to employees working more minutes per shift and included a decrease in breaks and sick days. 4% was attributed to individuals taking more calls per minute due to a quieter, more convenient, less distracting work environment. Home workers from the study reported high levels of satisfaction with their job and the company reported that their attrition rate halved. Additionally, research by Herman Miller suggests that personality type may play a part in individuals’ preference for where they work and how productive they are.
Results showed that those scoring high in the Meyers Briggs type “Sensing” rated having an individual workspace as being very important to them while those scoring as highly “Intuitive” preferred a more communal group space. As a result, Herman Miller classified workers based on their preferred work style with categories such as “anchored, campus, mobile, or distributed”. This approach further supports the idea that there is no one size fits all work environment and that productivity may be increased simply by allowing employees to choose their most ideal work environment. This historical emphasis on the importance of early rising has perhaps unintentionally villainized “night owls” and traditional 9-5 schedules are huge contributors to sleep loss in individuals whose biological clocks function differently.
In fact, a study by Hafner et al. (2016) found that on an annual basis, the US loses about 1.23 million cumulative working days due to sleep loss. The study makes a point that this is a substantial monetary economic loss equaling $411 billion a year. This trend is not exclusive to the United States with similar results found in the UK, Japan, Germany, and Canada. Researchers offered remedies including “setting consistent wake-up times, limiting the use of electronic items before bedtime, and exercising”. The study calls on employers to “recognize the importance of sleep and the employer’s role in its promotion, design and build brighter workspaces, combat workplace psychosocial risks, and discourage the extended use of electronic devices”.
Finally, their results urge public authorities to “support health professionals in providing sleep-related help, encourage employers to pay attention to sleep issues, and introduce later school starting times.” However, current research shows that some individuals may not be able to adhere to what most would consider a normal sleep schedule. A recent study by Patke et al. (2017) found that certain people actually have a mutation to a gene called CRY1. This gene is responsible for the internal management of the circadian clock, which ensures 24-hour rhythms in many of our biological processes.
When this gene presents in a mutated form, many individuals suffer from a type of insomnia called delayed sleep phase disorder. Essentially, the study revealed that people with this mutation perceive days to be longer than they actually are, which results in a sleep deficit since they are never able to catch up on lost sleep. Researchers in the study found that the gene mutation effects around 1 in 75 individuals taken from a European database, so a moderately high level of the sampled population. While the mutation does not account for all “late nighters”, it certainly brings attention to the fact that genes may play more into sleep schedules than previously thought.
Dr. Matthew Walker, a professor of Neuroscience and Psychology at UC Berkley and author of Why We Sleep, remarks in his book that ‘around 40 percent of the population are morning people, 30 percent are evening people, and the reminder lies in between.” He suggests that night owls are not necessarily so by choice but are instead bound to their genetic fate, resulting in a chronically delayed sleep schedule. There are also those who more or less choose to be night owls, possibly preferring the quiet later hours to be industrious and productive.
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