Smartphone use at night leaves workers tired, unproductive

(Bramgino/Fotolia.com)

(Bramgino/Fotolia.com)

Joanne Richard, Special to QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:53 PM ET

Dedicated go-getters who keep working from their smartphones long after they’ve left the office make for ironically unproductive employees, according to new research out of Harvard University.

“People can leave their offices without fear of being disconnected from their work. Indeed, many would consider smartphones to be among the most important tools ever invented when it comes to increasing the productivity of knowledge (and) work,” wrote researchers Christopher M. Barnes, Klodiana Lanaj and Russell Johnson in the Harvard Business Review.

“However, our new research indicates the greater connectivity comes at a cost: using a smartphone to cram more work into a given evening results in less work done the next day.”

The reason is simple — smartphones “are almost perfectly designed to disrupt sleep.”

“Because they keep us mentally engaged with work late into the evening, they make it harder to psychologically detach from the most pressing cares of the day so that we can relax and fall asleep,” the researchers said. “Perhaps the most difficult aspect of smartphones to avoid is that they expose us to light, including blue light. Even small amounts of blue light inhibit the sleep-promoting chemical melatonin, meaning that the displays of smartphones are capable of producing this effect.”

The findings come from a pair of studies to be published in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes. In the first, 82 mid- to high-level managers completed daily surveys about their phone usage, sleep patterns and alertness for two weeks.

“Consistent with our hypotheses, we found that late-night smartphone usage cut into sleep and made people tired in the morning, and that, as a result, they were less engaged at work the next day.”

In the second study, 161 employees from a range of occupations were asked to use laptops, tablets and TVs at night as well as their smartphones.

Smartphones were, by far, the worse culprits.

“The harmful effects of smartphones on sleep and work engagement held even after accounting for these other electronic devices.”

The Harvard researchers say companies need to change their work culture so that people are expected to take a certain amount of time off when they’re away from the workplace.

“Leaders should be sensitive to how their personal behaviours shape norms; employees will not feel pressure to check their mail late in the evening if their bosses aren’t using that time to send messages,” they said.

“As smartphones become more embedded in our daily lives, we should continue to seek solutions that will enable us to stay in touch with smartphones and still get the sleep we need to be effective the next day.“In contrast to a short-term perspective that puts the current work item as the top priority, a perspective that focuses on longer-term performance will leave more room for managing smartphones in a manner that preserves sleep.

“The more important the job, the more important it is to work with a fresh brain. We would do well to remember that, and not let our phones call the shots.”


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