Categories: Science

Good Sleep Can Increase Women’s Ambitions

Young Smiling Business Woman Conference Room

On days after a night of bad sleep, women indicated reduced aspirations to achieve higher status at work.

Sleep quality impacts women’s daily intentions to pursue workplace status.

Women may wish to lay down for a full night’s sleep before leaning into work. Research from Washington State University found that the quality of women’s sleep affected their mood and altered their perceptions of career advancement. Men’s aspirations, however, were unaffected by sleep quality.

This conclusion was reached by the researchers after conducting a two-week survey study of 135 American workers. The participants recorded their current mood, how well they had rested, and later in the day, how they felt about aiming for increased status and responsibility at work.

“When women are getting a good night’s sleep and their mood is boosted, they are more likely to be oriented in their daily intentions toward achieving status and responsibility at work,” said lead author Leah Sheppard, an associate professor in WSU’s Carson College of Business. “If their sleep is poor and reduces their positive mood, then we saw that they were less oriented toward those goals.”

Sheppard and co-authors Julie Kmec of WSU and Teng Iat Loi of the University of Minnesota-Duluth polled full-time employees twice a day for two consecutive work weeks for the study, which was published in the journal Sex Roles. Every day around noon, the participants answered questions about their previous night’s sleep and present mood. In the evenings they answered questions about their aspirations to seek greater responsibility, status, and influence at work.

Over the course of the trial, both men and women reported having good and bad nights’ sleep, with no discernible gender difference in these reports. On days after a night of bad sleep, women, however, more often indicated lower aspirations to achieve higher status at work.

The researchers can only speculate about exactly why sleep’s impact on mood affects women’s aspirations and not men’s, but they suspect it may have to do with gender differences in emotion regulation as well as societal expectations—or some combination of these forces.

Neuroscience research has shown that women tend to experience greater emotional re-activity and less emotion regulation than men, and this can be reinforced by cultural stereotypes of women as more emotional. At the same time, stereotypes of men as being more ambitious than women likely add more pressure for them to scale the corporate ladder, so perhaps poor sleep quality would be less likely to deter men from their work aspirations.

These findings hold some good news for women who want to advance their careers, though, Sheppard said. For instance, they might take some practical steps to improve work aspirations, ranging from practicing meditation to help with both sleep and emotion regulation to putting better boundaries on work hours – and of course, simply striving to get better sleep.

“It’s important to be able to connect aspirations to something happening outside the work environment that is controllable,” she said. “There are lots of things that anyone can do to have a better night’s sleep and regulate mood in general.”

Reference: “Too Tired to Lean In? Sleep Quality Impacts Women’s Daily Intentions to Pursue Workplace Status” by Leah D. Sheppard, Teng Iat Loi and Julie A. Kmec, 1 October 2022, Sex Roles.
DOI: 10.1007/s11199-022-01321-1

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