UC Davis Agricultural and Resource Economics

Gautam Rao, Harvard University

Sleepless in Chennai: The Consequences of Increasing Sleep among the Urban Poor

Date and Location

Tuesday, May 21, 2019, 4:10 PM - 5:30 PM
Giannini Library Conference Room, 4101 Social Sciences and Humanities


Little is known about the levels and consequences of sleep deprivation in the developing world.We employed 452 adults in urban India for a month each, measured their sleep objectively, and randomized treatments to increase sleep. We present five sets of results. First, despite spending8 hours in bed, workers slept 5.6 hours per night on average, implying strikingly low sleep efficiency. Second, providing devices and incentives to sleep more increased night sleep by over30 minutes. Offering short naps in the afternoon also increased daily sleep. Third, contrary to the prediction of most experts, increased night sleep did not increase earnings: while productivity did increase, especially due to naps, countervailing reductions in labor supply implied overall neutral or slightly negative effects on earnings. Fourth, increased night sleep improved health but had no impacts on cognition, well-being, or decision-making. In contrast, naps had no detectable effects on physical health but caused sizable increases in cognition and well-being.Fifth, naps increased individuals’ attention to non-salient incentives and increased savings by up to 16 percent, suggesting that increased attention due to naps altered decision-making. Taken together, we find strikingly low levels of sleep in an urban population in India, but little evidence of increased night sleep impacting short-run economic outcomes. The results provide a possible explanation for the persistence of widespread sleep deprivation.

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