By John Salak –
There is no doubt about it. Getting a good night’s sleep is important for all sorts of reasons. The Sleep Foundation reports it helps improve a person’s mood and supports heart health, mental well-being, and a healthy immune system. It also helps healthy body weight, among other benefits.
Good sleep may be the key to career advancement for women. Washington State University, in fact, just released research that shows sleep quality improved women’s moods and changed how they felt about advancing their careers. Superior sleep, however, did little to change the job aspirations of men.
The study tracked 135 workers daily over two weeks, noting how well they slept, their moods and whether they felt like striving for more responsibility and status at work.
“When women get a good night’s sleep, and their mood boosts, they are more likely to be oriented in their daily intentions toward achieving status and responsibility at work,” reported Leah Sheppard. She is the study’s lead author and an associate professor at Washington State. “If their sleep is poor and reduces their positive mood, then we saw that they were less oriented toward those goals.”
Both men and women experienced good and bad sleep quality during the study, with no appreciable difference. What was different is that women more often were not as intent on ratcheting up their status at work after a poor night’s sleep.
The study did not identify why this occurred, but the researchers speculated that the difference is due to gender distinctions in emotion regulation and societal expectations. The difference may also reflect a combination of these factors.
The study cited neuroscience research shows that women tend to experience greater emotional re-activity and less emotion regulation than men. It reinforces cultural stereotypes of women as being more emotional than men. Comparatively, men are stereotyped as more ambitious than women, adding pressure to push career advances irrespective of issues like poor sleep quality.
The university’s finding may provide valuable insights for women seeking career advancement because there are practical steps, they can take to improve sleep and emotion regulation, Sheppard noted.
“It’s important to connect aspirations to something controllable outside the work environment,” she said. “There are many things anyone can do to have a better night’s sleep and regulate mood in general.”
A larger question facing both men and women is what constitutes better sleep. Is it the amount or the quality? The American Academy of Sleep Medicine advises that adults get at least seven hours a night. It also notes that at least a third of adults don’t hit this amount.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) isn’t so sure the number of hours matters as much as the quality of sleep, at least regarding productivity and possibly some other health issues. MIT came to its conclusions based on field research of low-income workers in Chennai, India.
The institute’s research team managed to help study participants increase their average sleep time by 30 minutes per night, which is substantial. However, the extra time did not improve the participants’ work productivity, earnings, financial choices, sense of well-being or even their blood pressure. It lowered the number of hours they worked.
“To our surprise, these night-sleep interventions had no positive effects whatsoever on any of the outcomes we measured,” reported Frank Schilbach, an MIT economist and co-author of the study. Short daytime naps helped. These brief snoozes helped increase productivity and improve well-being.
The researchers admit that measuring the impact of sleep on low-income workers in India may have different considerations and ramifications than charting the impact of sleep on office workers in North America and Europe. Nonetheless, defining and promoting quality sleep over the amount of sleep may be important.
“Sleep might be important as an avenue for improved productivity or other choices people make,” Schilbach added. “But I think a good night’s sleep is also important in and of itself. We should value being able to afford to sleep well and not be worried at night. Poverty indices are about income and material consumption. But now that we can measure sleep better, a good night’s sleep should be a part of a more comprehensive measure of people’s well-being. I hope that’s where we’re going eventually.”