How disrupted sleep patterns can influence behaviour at work

According to a new study, night owls and early risers are more likely to exhibit “unethical and deviant” behaviour if they are working outside of their natural rhythms.

Speaking at the recent Hay Festival, science journalist and author, Linda Geddes, said that more workplaces should adopt “flexi working” in order to accommodate varying chronotypes. These chronotypes are usually split into two groups: owls, who peak best later in the day, and larks, who perform better in energy and mood in the mornings.

Additionally, research found that logical reasoning is best mid-morning, while problem-solving improves early afternoon. Usually, people then experience a post-lunch alertness dip in the afternoon. However, these are average statistics that found larks experience the peaks and drops earlier, while owls see them later.

“That’s kind of a problem because research suggests if your manager is a lark and you’re a night owl, they’re going to judge your performance more poorly,” Geddes said. “Lark managers tend to perceive more owlish workers who start later or just don’t get going until 10am, they judge them as less competent. And if you’re an owl forced to start work early, you’re going to curb your sleep.”

Geddes also added that if people do not get enough sleep, they are more likely to “engage with unethical and deviant behaviour, such as being mean, bullying fellow employees or falsifying receipts.” This applies to both types: larks, who tend to behave more unethically in the evening, and owls in the morning.

A further study said that employees who get less than six hours’ sleep per night are more likely to participate in similar behaviour, with researchers finding a link between sleep deprivation and glucose levels in the cerebral cortex, the brain region that is responsible for self-control.

Flexi-working would help “level the playing field,” according to Geddes. It could also help boost workplace productivity and workers’ health and happiness.