This is how much your insomnia actually affects your ability to do your job

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Anna Pollitt
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It takes just one night of poor sleep to make us destructive and irritable at work, a new study claims.

Rudeness, lateness, selfishness and even stealing are among the “unwanted behaviours” that can arise from a lack of shut eye, according to research by the Rotterdam School of Management in the Netherlands.

Over 10 days, researcher Laura Giurge questioned a group of professionals to assess how their quality of sleep impacted the way they acted at work. She found that just one bad night’s sleep can result in undesirable conduct.

This is made even worse if those poor sleepers possess a “low moral identity,” which Giurge identifies as “selfish impulses that are not kept in check by self-control.”

The study found that those who pushed the boundaries even just once – such as taking a too-long lunch, or lashing out at a colleague – were more likely to engage in similar “unwanted behaviour” when they were sleep-deprived.

Using an example of sneaking home early without telling the boss, Giurge notes that most people resist such urges, while those who don’t feel remorse. However, she says the ability to identify feelings of regret and guilt are impaired by a lack of decent kip.

“It is known that this ability to regulate our impulses can be undermined by having had a bad night – not necessarily just by the amount of sleep, but also by impaired sleep quality.”

Tiredness apparently can make it harder for people to overcome the feeling that they have failed and try again the next day.

Giurge found that some participants responded worse to bad sleep than others and the negative effect of a bad night’s sleep is “not a fixed character trait” but can vary day-to-day among the same people.

The study says going to work on poor sleep could lead to a destructive cycle among staff. It says the research could help explain why unethical behaviour is so persistent in organisations. 

A 2015 Washington State University study published in the journal Sleep found that sleeplessness can cause the brain to “short-circuit” when it comes to decision-making.


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Anna Pollitt

Anna is a freelance writer and editor who’s been making her dime from online since 2007. She’s a regular at, ITV News and Emerald Street and moonlights as a copywriter and digital content consultant.