“I have never taken any exercise except sleeping and resting.”
Mark Twain

Enzo, our latest guide dog puppy who is now doing his “undergraduate” work to become a working service dog for the blind has always been an early riser. As a result we tend to be getting less sleep than we would really like. Yes, raising a guide dog puppy is a lot like raising infants.

We wish Enzo was more of a “night owl” with a sleep cycle that tends to peak later in the day–allowing us just a bit more sleep in the morning.

We are learning two important things about lack of sleep and how performance is related to whether you are an “early riser” or a “night owl.”

Are You A Better Performer if You are a Morning Person?

Research suggests that there are significant differences in the way our brains function depending on whether we’re early risers or night owls. Using MRI techniques of the brain, researchers at the University of Alberta studied two groups: 1) Those who get up early and feel most productive in the morning and 2) those who are more productive and alert at night1.

What they found was rather surprising.

Night owls became physically stronger throughout the day, but the maximum amount of muscle tone that “morning people”could produce remained the same. This finding suggests that “night owls” are really handicapped with tasks requiring physical performance in the morning but “morning people” do just as well anytime during the day.

So, Enzo being an early riser might have a guide dog advantage over his sleepy head brothers and sisters who are optimally effective later in the day.

Job Performance, Effectiveness and Lack of Sleep

Night Owls” risk not getting enough sleep because they simply stay up too late.  What’s the possible performance consequences for these individuals (or any of us) when this happens?

Research by Sylvia Ann-Hewlett and Carol Luce show that 62% of high earning individuals work more than 50 hours per week, 35% work more than 60 hours a week and 10% work more than 80 hours2. Their findings also suggest that more than 70% of professionals reported not getting enough sleep.

Leaders and others know that the sleep-deprived are typically moody, miserable and just not much fun to be around. New research from UC Berkeley using MRI technology helps explain why for the first time.

The study is the first to show exactly what areas of the brain are affected by sleep deprivation3.

In the UC Berkeley study of 26 young adults, half of the subjects were kept awake for 35 hours straight and the other half were allowed a normal night’s sleep in that same time period. Then all of the subjects were hooked up to an MRI and shown a number of images while the researchers monitored what happened in their brains as each image was shown.

The sleep-deprived subjects had significant activity in the amygdala (the section of the brain that puts the body on alert to protect itself and control emotions) and simultaneously activity slowed down in the prefrontal cortex, which controls logical reasoning. However, subjects who had gotten a full night of sleep showed normal brain activity.

What this means for most employees is that a sleepless night or very poor quality of sleep can cause them to overreact to emotional challenges that they would otherwise be able to tolerate without any trouble.

So, look out if you have sleep deprived talent and leaders who lack emotional intelligence — their amygdala already is compromised….Be well…

  1. Tamm, A., Lagerquist, O., Ley, A., & Collins, D. (2009). Chronotype Influences Diurnal Variations in the Excitability of the Human Motor Cortex and the Ability to Generate Torque during a Maximum Voluntary Contraction. Journal of Biological Rhythms, Vol. 24, No. 3, 211-224 []
  2. Hewlett, A. & Luce, C. (2006). Extreme jobs. The dangerous allure of the 70-hour workweek. Harvard Business Review, December 2006, pp. 1-12 []
  3. Yoo, S., Gujar,N., Hu, P., Jolesz, F., & Walker, M. (2007). The human emotional brain without sleep — a prefrontal amygdala disconnect. Current Biology. Vol 17 []

Kenneth Nowack, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist (PSY13758) and President & Chief Research Officer/Co-Founder of Envisia Learning, is a member of the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations, and is a guest lecturer at the UCLA Anderson School of Management. Ken also serves as the Associate Editor of Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research. His recent book Clueless: Coaching People Who Just Don’t Get It is available for free for a limited time by signing up for free blog updates (Learn more at our website)

Posted in Engagement, Selection, Wellness

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