Not Sleeping Can Turn You Into a Lying, Cheating Scumbag


Have you been acting dishonest around the office lately by taking credit for other people’s work or misreporting numbers? There’s a chance that your recent acts of workplace scum-baggery are not entirely your fault. New research shows that the impulse to cheat might come from (or is at least encouraged by) a lack of sleep. In other words, get a couple more hours of rest a night and you might actually become a decent person.

Recent research shows that sleep deprivation — an unfortunate side effect of having a busy professional life — depletes the glucose level in your brain. Glucose helps you with decision making and self control.

As Christopher M. Barnes, an assistant professor of management at the University of Washington, writes for the Harvard Business Review:

Self-control varies over time within the same person. Physiologically, self-control occurs largely in the pre-frontal cortex region of the human brain, and uses glucose as a fuel. The act of using self-control draws upon this fuel, which exhausts the fuel. Thus, one’s ability to exert self-control can become depleted. And when self-control is depleted, people are more likely to cave to temptations to behave unethically.

Barnes and his colleagues took this research on the effects of glucose on impulse control and transfered it into a high pressure office setting.

He writes:

Across a set of four studies in both laboratory and field contexts, we found that a lack of sleep led to high levels of unethical behavior. Moreover, we found that this was because a lack of sleep depleted self-control, which in turn led to unethical behavior.

Researchers found that it doesn’t take a dramatic amount of sleep loss to induce negative behavior. In one study, the difference in sleep between someone who cheated and someone who didn’t was a mere 22 minutes.

The same pattern occurred outside of the lab:

In the field studies, naturally occurring variation in sleep (with most nights ranging from 6.5-8.5 hours of sleep) was sufficient to predict unethical behavior at work the next day.

The researchers determined that “deviant work behaviors” were more common among those who slept 6 hours or less a night.

In an ideal world, Barnes’ research would be good enough motivation for employers to lessen the demands on their workers, especially considering that a more well rested staff is a more ethical and productive one. Sadly, this is not an ideal world and we are all doomed to be workplace cheaters until the day we retire/are indicted for misreporting numbers.

Sleep Deprived People Are More Likely to Cheat [Harvard Business Review]

Image via Getty.

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