Not getting enough done at work? Maybe you should start your workday later in the morning.
A recent study from the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine found that people who get to the office early often sacrifice sleep for work, and chronic sleep loss can contribute to a drop in productivity.
“The primary activity people trade for sleep is work,” says Andrea Spaeth, one of the researchers on the study. Analyzing data from the American Time Use Survey, she and her colleagues found that for every hour a person delays the start of their workday, his or her sleep time increases by 20 minutes. Early birds–those who start work at or before 6 a.m.–average just six hours a night, while those who start between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. get an average of seven hours of sleep each night.
For optimal health, productivity and alertness, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that adults get between seven and nine hours. Unfortunately about a third of us get six hours or less each night, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While you may not be able to change your work hours or workload, there are things you can do to get more sleep at night, says Spaeth.
Spaeth says she and fellow researchers were surprised to discover that short sleepers don’t watch less TV than normal sleepers; they just watch it later.
“They’re getting home from work later, and instead of going to bed at a decent time, they stay up to watch shows,” Spaeth says. “This further cuts into sleep time.”
The quickest way to get more sleep in your day is to reduce your television viewing, she says, but turn it off an hour before bed. Studies have found that the blue light emitted by electronics–even e-readers–disrupts the body’s circadian clock and hinders sleep quality.
Allowing employees to arrive at work later would promote sleep, says Spaeth. Companies such as Google and Microsoft let employees choose their start time within certain parameters, and research has shown that flexible work practices lead to increased productivity, higher job satisfaction, and decreased turnover rates.
A later start would also be good for students. In September 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommended that middle and high schools delay the start of class to 8:30 a.m. or later, which better fit the biological sleep rhythms of adolescents. Teens who don’t get enough sleep have an increased risk of automobile accidents and a decline in academic performance.
Those who start their commute early in the morning also sleep less. The study found that short sleepers’ travel pattern peaks at 7 a.m. and 5 p.m.
“People with long commute are basically extending their workday and cutting into their sleep time,” says Spaeth. She suggests moving closer to work whenever possible to cut down on the time needed to travel to and from the office.
A study by the UK’s Office for National Statistics found that commuters are more likely to be anxious, dissatisfied and have the sense that their daily activities lack meaning than those who don’t have to travel to work. And each additional minute of commuting made people feel slightly worse up to a certain point; once a commute hit three hours, the negative effects dropped off.
Spaeth says traffic and a long commute take less of a toll when workers take public transportation. In fact, a study from the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom found that taking public transport makes people happier and helps them to sleep better. Car commuters were 13% more likely to feel they were under constant strain or unable to concentrate.
“You might think that things like disruption to services or crowds of commuters might have been a cause of considerable stress. But as buses or trains also give people time to relax, read, socialize, and there is usually an associated walk to the bus stop or railway station, it appears to cheer people up,” said the study’s lead researcher Adam Martin.