The Economic Consequences of Increasing Sleep Among the Urban Poor

Q J Econ. 2021 Apr 8;136(3):1887-1941. doi: 10.1093/qje/qjab013. eCollection 2021 Aug.


The urban poor in developing countries face challenging living environments, which may interfere with good sleep. Using actigraphy to measure sleep objectively, we find that low-income adults in Chennai, India, sleep only 5.5 hours a night on average despite spending 8 hours in bed. Their sleep is highly interrupted, with sleep efficiency-sleep per time in bed-comparable to those with disorders such as sleep apnea or insomnia. A randomized three-week treatment providing information, encouragement, and improvements to home sleep environments increased sleep duration by 27 minutes a night by inducing more time in bed. Contrary to expert predictions and a large body of sleep research, increased nighttime sleep had no detectable effects on cognition, productivity, decision making, or well being, and led to small decreases in labor supply. In contrast, short afternoon naps at the workplace improved an overall index of outcomes by 0.12 standard deviations, with significant increases in productivity, psychological well-being, and cognition, but a decrease in work time.