“When you get less sleep, you’re more prone to distraction,” said lead researcher Gloria Mark, an informatics professor at the University of California Irvine (UCI). “If you’re being distracted, what do you do? You go to Facebook. It’s lightweight, it’s easy, and you’re tired.”
While there have been lots of studies on how human-computer interaction affects sleep, the UCI researchers say they did the opposite.
“We looked at how sleep duration influences IT usage,” said Mark.
She and her colleagues collected data from 76 UCI undergraduates — 34 males and 42 females — for seven days during the spring 2014 quarter. The study controlled for students’ gender, age, course load, and deadlines and relied on sensors to objectively gauge their behavior, activities, and stress levels, the researcher explained.
Students’ computers and smartphones were equipped with logging software, and time stamps recorded when they switched from one application window to another and when they spoke on the phone or texted. The students also were asked to fill out a sleep survey each morning and an end-of-day survey at night.
They also filled out a general questionnaire and sat for an exit interview. Periodically throughout the week, they received probing questions from researchers regarding their mood, the perceived difficulty of whatever task was at hand, and their level of engagement in their work.
Central to the study was a concept known as “sleep debt,” the accumulated difference between the amount of sleep needed and the amount experienced, the researchers noted.
Mark said the study’s findings show a direct connection among chronic lack of sleep, worsening mood, and greater reliance on Facebook browsing.
She also found that the less sleep people have, the more frequently their attention shifts among different computer screens, suggesting heightened distractibility.