There have been many studies that show how the use of information technologies—digital distractions like computers and smart phones—can disrupt sleep, but not so many about how lack of sleep can affect the use of information technologies. UCI researchers discovered that lack of sleep not only negatively impacts mood and efficiency, but can also cause increased distractibility that manifests as frequent online activities, such as scrolling through your Facebook feed.
Research has already shown that sleep deprivation causes loss of productivity, greater work problems, and an increased risk of accidents, such as falling asleep at the wheel. The latest study examined the impact sleep has on people’s use of technologies and digital products. The seven-week study took place during the spring 2014 quarter and consisted of 34 male and 42 female UCI undergraduates. Researchers controlled for gender, age, course load, and deadlines. They used sensors to assess behavior, activities, and stress levels.
To measure online activity, researchers added logging software and time stamps on the students’ computers and smartphones. This way they were able to record when students flipped from window to window on their computers, or when they spoke on the phone or texted. In addition, students completed a sleep survey every morning, and an end-of-day survey every evening. They also filled out a general questionnaire at the start of the study, and took an exit interview at the end. Researchers checked in on participants regularly, asking questions about mood and rating perceived difficulty of current task and engagement with work.
Results showed that students who consistently slept the least were more prone to moodiness and showed a greater tendency to browse Facebook. Lack of sleep also led to digital distractibility, with more frequent shifts between computer screens.
“When you get less sleep, you’re more prone to distraction,” said lead researcher Gloria Mark, a UCI informatics professor. “If you’re being distracted, what do you do? You go to Facebook. It’s lightweight, it’s easy, and you’re tired.”
Awareness is always the first step. So, if you notice your Facebook scrolling getting out of hand, take a step back, and see if you need to prioritize more sleep!