Slacking at Work? Blame the Time Change

Setting your clock forward could set your habits back.

Posted Mar 10, 2012

setting a clock
The spring forward to daylight saving time (DST) affects your quantity and quality of sleep. And that, in turn, affects how well you're able to self-regulate your behavior.

The result: Immediately after the spring time change, your guard is down more than usual around distractions and temptations. In theory, at least, you may be more vulnerable to slacking at work, skipping the gym, going off your diet, or relapsing to an old smoking habit.

Less sleeping, more slacking

There's some hard evidence to support this idea. In a study published online by the Journal of Applied Psychology, researchers analyzed Google search patterns to study "cyberloafing" - using the Internet for personal pursuits while on the clock. They found a spike in cyberloafing on the Monday after the change to DST, compared to other Mondays.

The researchers speculated that people were more tired at work after losing sleep due to the time change. Consequently, they were less able to exercise the self-control needed to stay on task when Facebook and YouTube beckoned.

On the Monday after the switch to DST, U.S. workers report having slept 40 minutes less, on average, the previous night than on other nights. Other research has shown that the quality of sleep is impaired as well, with sleepers experiencing more nighttime restlessness right after the spring time change.

So here's what the researchers think may happen: During the day, exercising self-control and resisting temptation takes a lot of effort. As the day wears on, your self-regulatory resources become depleted. Normally, sleep helps restore them. But if you don't get enough high-quality sleep, you may not have a chance to fully replenish your resolve.

Watch out for backsliding

It's not much of a conceptual leap to posit that other behaviors requiring self-control - such as choosing to pass up the doughnuts or stop by the gym after work - might also be affected by time change-related sleep loss. For outdoor behaviors - such as going for a walk or jog - the sudden change in the timing of daylight hours may throw off your schedule, too.

The bottom line: The first days after setting your clock forward may be a high-risk period for sliding back into bad habits. Give your sleep - and your self-control - a few days to adapt. Until then, you may want to be extra-vigilant about clicking away from an urgent work report to watch that hilarious video clip online.

Linda Wasmer Andrews is a health writer with a master's degree in psychology. Follow her on Twitter. Find her on Facebook. Visit her online.