[Apr 23, 2022: Peter Dizikes, MIT]
Getting more sleep seems to be of great benefit. (credit: creative commons)
In particular, getting more sleep offers huge benefits: Many people find that it gives them energy, emotional control, and a better sense of well-being. But a new study co-authored by MIT economists complicates the picture, suggesting that more sleep is not necessarily enough to bring about those kinds of lucrative improvements.
The study is based on a specific field experiment of low-income workers in Chennai, India, where researchers studied residents at home during their normal daily routines – and managed to increase participants’ sleep by about half an hour per night, a Very important advantage. And yet, sleeping more at night did not improve people’s work productivity, earnings, financial choices, sense of well-being, or even their blood pressure. Apparently, the only thing he did was to reduce the number of hours he worked.
“To our surprise, these night-sleep interventions had no positive effect on any of the outcomes we measured,” says Frank Schilbach, MIT economist and co-author of a new paper detailing the study’s findings.
There’s more to the matter: For one thing, the researchers found, shorter daytime naps helped with productivity and well-being. For another matter, the participants had a habit of sleeping through the night in difficult conditions, with many interruptions. The findings leave open the possibility that it may be useful to help people sleep more soundly, rather than simply adding to the total amount of low-grade sleep.
“The sleep quality of people in these conditions in Chennai is so low that adding poor-quality sleep may not have the benefits that a half-hour sleep would have if it were high-quality,” suggests Schilbach.
The paper, “The Economic Consequences of Rising Sleepiness Among the Urban Poor”, is published in the August issue of Quarterly Journal of Economics, The paper’s authors are Pedro Besson PhD ’21, a recent graduate from MIT’s Department of Economics; Gautam Rao, associate professor of economics at Harvard University; Schilbach, who is the Gary Loveman Career Development Associate Professor of Economics at MIT; Heather Scofield, assistant professor at the Perelman School of Medicine and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania; and Matty Toma, PhD candidate in economics at Harvard University.
sleeping on a rickshaw
Schilbach, a development economist, says the study stems from other research he and his colleagues have done in settings like Chennai – during which they observed that low-income people had difficulty sleeping in addition to their other daily routines. Is. challenges.
“In Chennai, you can see people sleeping on their rickshaws,” says Shilbach, who is also a faculty associate at MIT’s Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL). “Often, four or five people sleep in the same room where there is noise and noise, you see people sleeping between road sections next to the highway. It is incredibly hot even at night, and there are a lot of mosquitoes. Essentially, in Chennai, you can find any potentially disturbing or unfavorable sleep factor.
To conduct the study, researchers equipped Chennai residents with actigraphs, wristwatch-like devices that infer sleep status from body movements, allowing the team to study people in their homes. Many other sleep studies observe people in a laboratory environment.
The study examined 452 people over a month. Some were given encouragement and tips for better sleep; Others found a financial incentive to buy more gold. Some members of those two groups even took a nap during the day to see what effect it had.
Study participants were also given data-entry jobs with flexible hours during the experiment, so that researchers could see the effect of sleep on worker output and earnings in more detail.
Overall, participants in the Chennai study slept an average of about 5.5 hours per night before the intervention, and added an average of 27 minutes of sleep per night. However, to achieve those 27 minutes, participants were in bed an additional 38 minutes per night. This explained the challenging sleep conditions of the participants, who woke up 31 times per night on average.
“One important thing that stands out is that people have a low sleep capacity, that is, their sleep is very fragmented,” says Schilbach. “They have a much shorter duration than is thought to have the restorative benefits of deep sleep. … the amount of sleep people got due to the intervention increased as they spent more time in bed, but their sleep quality was unchanged.” “
This is why, across a variety of metrics, there were no positive changes after the people in the study slept more. Indeed, as Schilbach notes, “we find a negative effect on working long hours. If you spend more time in bed, you have less time for other things in your life.” “
On the other hand, study participants who were allowed to take a nap during the data-entry task performed better in several measured categories.
“In contrast to nighttime sleep interventions, we find clear evidence of improvements in a range of outcomes, including their productivity, their cognitive function and their psychological well-being, as well as some evidence on savings,” Schilbach says. “These two interventions have different effects.”
That said, total income only increased compared to workers who took naps. The nap did not increase the total income of the workers – nappers were more productive per minute worked but spent less time actually working.
“It’s not like the nap just pays for itself,” Schilbach says. “People don’t really stay in the office longer than they do when they nap, probably because they have other things to do, like taking care of their family. If people take about a half-hour nap, their working hours About half an hour falls, an almost one-to-one ratio, and as a result, people in that group earn less.”
To value sleep as an end in itself
Schilbach says he hopes other researchers will look into some of the more questions raised in the study. Further work, for example, may attempt to change the sleeping conditions of low-income workers to see whether better sleep quality, not just increased sleep amounts, makes a difference.
Schilbach also suggests that it may be important to better understand the psychological challenges that poor sleep time faces.
“Being poor is very stressful, and it can interfere with people’s sleep,” he says. “How environmental and psychological factors affect sleep quality deserves attention.”
In addition, using actigraph technology and other tools, notes Schilbach, it should be possible to increase the number of studies that capture people’s sleeping patterns in their normal home environment, not just medical settings.
“There’s not a lot of work to do to study sleep in people’s everyday lives,” says Schilbach. “And I really hope people study sleep more in developing countries and in poorer countries, focusing on the results that people value.”
For his part, Schilbach says he is interested in continuing work on sleep, which is set not only in India, but in the US, where he has done most of his research. In any case, he says, we should take the issue of sleep seriously as an element of anti-poverty research and public policy – and as an important element of well-being in itself.
“Sleep can be important for better productivity or the other kinds of choices people make,” says Schilbach. “But I think a good night’s sleep is also important in itself. We should be able to sleep well and not be worried at night. Poverty indices are about income and material consumption. But now that we sleep better measure, then a good night’s sleep should be part of a more comprehensive measure of people’s well-being. I hope that’s where we’re going eventually.”
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