Sleep loss 'starts arguments at work'

By Sean Coughlan
Education correspondent

lack of sleepImage source, Getty Images

Erratic and disruptive behaviour at work can be caused by even a single night's loss of sleep, say researchers.

Lack of sleep does not only mean tired workers, says the study, but can also cause "unwanted" activity, which it links to lower levels of self-control.

The study, published by the Rotterdam School of Management, says that such sleep-related disruption can cost billions in lost productivity.

Sleeplessness can cause a "destructive cycle" in work, says the study.

"Unwanted behaviour in the workplace often stems from selfish impulses that are not kept in check by self-control," says researcher Laura Giurge of the Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University in the Netherlands.

This could be anything from being rude to someone else in the office or increasing the likelihood of workplace theft.

But the study suggests that lack of sleep, even for a single night, can be a powerful influence over people who would otherwise not behave that way.

"This study shows that the display of unwanted behaviour is not a fixed character trait," says Ms Giurge.

"It can vary from day to day, even within the same person."

The study argues that lack of sleep can reduce people's sense of self-control and their ability to "regulate their impulses" - so that they behave in a way that they would not do normally.

"This can lead into a possibly destructive cycle," says the study and could contribute to unethical behaviour.

Such lack of sleep can also make it more difficult for people at work to overcome feelings of failure, says the study, with workplace problems seeming to become overwhelming.

There have been previous studies which have examined how sleep deprivation can disrupt "moral judgement" and alter the quality of decision-making.

This has been studied in areas such as whether lack of sleep changes the behaviour of judges and how sleep deprivation might change how soldiers behave under pressure.