Grumpiness, Bias and the Value of Sleep

Grumpiness, Bias and the Value of Sleep April 15, 2019

by Cindy Kunsman

Do some conditions increase negativity without our notice? Researchers investigating sleep deprivation found a powerful causal factor for negativity through Implicit Bias – a negative attitude towards people or the group wherein we categorize them. Stereotypes are misleading, but sleep deprivation makes us more likely to resort to them. When tainted by the Negativity Bias, those who manifest it have no difficulty citing explicit reasons for their grim outlook (usually ad nauseum). Those who fall into the trap of Implicit Bias cannot cite evidence or rationales for their prejudice.

Studies of sleep deprivation show a drop in all areas of mental acuity as well as an impressive causal connection with Implicit Bias. We all understand that lack of sleep can make us grumpy, but this study and ongoing work continue to yield data that validates this hypothesis.

If you visit, you can check your own implicit bias which was given to subjects at the end of a week of sleep deprivation and again some weeks later after they were able to recover. The tool asked them to categorize paired words and concepts to indicate whether they were ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Everyone performed reasonably well when they were given simple lists of single words, but when those words were paired with other words that made the choice more complex, they demonstrated “moderately strong negative biases.” Even people who fell into a frowned upon category in the study identified themselves as ‘bad.’

We use the heuristic of prejudice to help us make decisions more rapidly, but in the case of the Implicit Bias, we do not perceive our own transient attitude changes. When in a sleep-deprived state, we usually don’t realize or believe that our performance drops below par for our norm. Similar to the Dunning-Kreuger Effect wherein we overestimate our competency, we don’t notice that our attitudes shift into grumpiness which takes a serious toll on our ability to resist prejudice.

We can begin to diminish the likelihood that we will make bad decisions by providing for adequate sleep, and when we find ourselves in a grumpy state, we can guard against snap, automatic prejudice, simply because we know of the tendency. Other studies suggest that anti-bias education helps to reduce the incidence of bias in the workplace, and it may help to include the consideration in workplace hiring practices. When we know that we’re short on sleep, we can make sure to adjust our internal boundaries (those we impose upon ourselves by setting limits on our own behavior) to guard against our grumpy attitudes and situations that will magnify and feed our prejudice.

And it should go without saying that we’re wise to avoid manipulators and cultural enforcers when we’re sleepy because we know that sleep deprivation dulls all of our cognitive abilities.

Further Reading:

Cindy is a nurse who was raised in Word of Faith, a Second Generation Adult of cultic Christianity. She and her husband dabbled in Calvinism and Theonomy as a foil to Christian anti-intellectualism, and they were exit counseled together when the walked away from a church that embraced Gothard’s teachings. Cindy escaped many Quiverfull pitfalls but became a social pariah for failing to birth a family. She’s been decrying the abuses of the Patriarchy Movement since 2004, and she writes about spiritual abuse at her blog, Under Much Grace. Read more about her here.

She blogs at Under Much Grace, Enmeshed for Jesus, and Redeeming Dinah.

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  • Jennny

    I was posted to a school in the 1990s in the poorest square mile in Wales. I was so impressed by the staff. Life was cruel and grim for many little ones, so there was an unspoken desire to make the 6hrs a day they spent in school happy, warm and fulfilling. Staff hoped the children would find their needs met, unlike at home sadly, and also perhaps learn that not all the adults in their lives were abusive. So, sleep was a big thing we did a big push for. When I first taught, in the 1970s, 5-6yos would fall asleep in the last half hour, 3pm storytime. As the decades passed, children came to school tired and fell asleep at 9.30a.m. At my 1990s school, we realised kids could now watch TV 24/7 – in the 1970s, TV didn’t start till 4pm. We wanted the children to reach their potential, stay in education, unlike their parents and hopefully make something of their lives. We did all sorts of projects to promote early bedtimes. Each class had a Teddy who went home with a child for the weekend. he had to write in his diary what time he’d gone to bed, if he’d worn pyjamas, not slept in his clothes as kids did, whether he brushed his teeth etc…They were a wonderful bunch of teachers, so aware that tiredness, coupled with a diet of Coca Cola burgers and biscuits, if the cupboards weren’t completely bare, was no recipe for being bright-eyed and bushy tailed and receptive to learning. We also noticed children coming to school so grumpy and out of sorts, for tiredness reasons, but also because they were allowed to watch TV from 5am, so when told to get ready for school at 8, grumbled at being dragged away from their favourite cartoon channel, again, not conducive to learning.

  • Saraquill

    When my mom was dating, she thought depriving me of sleep* and encouraging others to make fun of my bad mood would endear me to her then-boyfriend. I developed extra resentments instead.

    *I had a farmer-like sleep schedule. She was very much a night owl and forced me to conform during these events.

  • SAO

    To put this in more simple language, sleep deprivation slows your thinking process. Biases are ways to speed thinking — stuff in this group is good, stuff in that group is bad — so you don’t have to actually spend time thinking about what the stuff is. Thus, sleep deprivation makes people more likely to have biased thinking.

    It’s an interesting thought, since it’s so hard, in the modern world, to get enough sleep.

  • Friend

    Well, this is causing some reflection about the adult insomniacs from my childhood. Yes, chronic sleep deprivation probably made them blurt out more hostile comments.

    However, one of them was just a plain old bigot who enjoyed teaching us derogatory terms and telling stories about the “qualities” of people from different religions and ethnic groups.

    Sleep would only have helped if he had slept all the damn time instead of talking.

  • It was a bit more than that by way of subtty. Some people (like me) tend to be easy going and more passive when tired. (One night shift coworker I had used to say that if I didn’t have to sit at the end of my ICU patients’ beds, if I had a chance to sit at the nurse’s station, it seemed like it was a night at the improv.).

    Before people are aware that they are impaired, they insist that they are not impaired. When submitted to a near exhaustive battery of tests for all kinds of things, the one statistically significant and robust relationship with cognitive bias was that of the implicit bias. It is as if people just defer to whatever ubiquitous societal prejudice prevails. Even someone from Krakow would find no fault with Polish jokes, and a Dubliner would agree with some common, derrogatory Irish stereotype that they would otherwise protest.

    The relationship between sleep deprivation and what you might call the gateway to cruelty specifically was so strong that it warranted further study.

  • That’s a miserable thing to do to someone.

  • That’s encouraging to me. It was many moons ago, but in public school, I think that at least half of the teachers there just showed up to collect a paycheck. It was a joy that made a huge difference to start a new school year with a teacher who was consciencious and cared about their students. I always did so much better. That’s a beautiful gift when educators live up to such a high potential.

  • Jennny

    They were pretty special. I feel so privileged to have worked with them. Their creativity in trying to improve the lives of the children knew no bounds. In my first week, I met a new child with special needs who wet herself, so no one would sit near her. The teaching assistant invented a reason to take the child to ‘run errands’ and took her to the toilet regularly and explained how to empty her bladder. She brought pretty knickers, soap and flannel so the child could wash herself. The next day, I received 4 more bags for her, the school cook slipped me a pretty toiletries bag ….as did a dinner assistant and two other teachers! Everyone was just so kind. i could write a book about the dozens of little ways they cared for their charges.

  • You know, you probably should write a book. There seems to be a generation or two of too many teachers without inspiration to help their students.