Danish research: Answering emails in bed ruins your working day

Students have found a link between artificial light and employees’ innovative capacity

According to the findings of two recently-graduated students at Roskilde University, using your computer in bed to check work emails destroys your chances of being well-rested for work the following day, reports Videnskab.dk.

Claes Ziehm Mortensen and his research partner studied the effect of a short and disturbed night’s sleep on an employee’s ability to be innovative and found that exposure to computer screens was particularly detrimental.

“We can see that the employees who lied in bed in the evening with their laptops and phones and answered email had a much more restless sleep from which they awoke frequently,” he said.

“It’s clear that when people have spent the evening answering emails in bed they are less fresh for work the next day. People who tend to take the computer to bed also judged their well-being to be poorest and were therefore unable to devote themselves to processes conducive to innovation.”

Screens confuse the brain
Mortensen and Jakob Bjerrum Koch recently defended their thesis and were awarded 12 for the assignment – the top mark possible.

According to Mortensen and Koch’s research, computer usage at night impacts sleep quality because the artificial light from the screen confuses the brain so that it doesn’t know if it is day or night, resulting in several unnoticed awakenings during the night.

Birgitte Rahbek Kornum, a sleep researcher at Glostrup Hospital, confirms that the effect of artificial light has a documented link with disturbed sleep. “Blue light can especially postpone the brain’s production of melatonin,” she said.

“Therefore the brain only starts to produce melatonin after the computer is switched off. From a sleep researcher’s point of view, it’s a very bad idea to sit and look at a computer, TV or iPad just before you go to sleep.”

Outdoor meetings
Mortensen and Koch’s study found that light impacted on more than just sleep quality for employees and companies. The light conditions in the workplace itself were also significant. Employees with the poorest lighting at work described their days less positively and described having less energy.

Among their proposals, the pair recommend employers make use of outdoor meetings. “If two or three employees have a meeting, it can be a good idea to take it during a walk and get some natural light. It only takes 12 to 20 minutes of sunlight to lift the mood and energy level,” Mortensen said.

Mortensen also suggests that companies tell their employees not to answer work emails late at night. “It’s better to get up early,” he said.