“The effects of sleep disturbances in economy is probably a good topic for further discussion”

Pedro Pita Barros, Professor of Economics at Universidade Nova of Lisbon, said in an interview to iSleep that “from a certain number of work hours, the extra time has little effect and it is simply time taken away from sleep”, which then reflects on productivity.

The Portuguese seem to work the longest hours in Europe, but they are among the least productive. How can we explain this contradiction?
It is not really a contradiction. We produce little value per hour. Part of it is connected to the type of goods and services on which we use those hours, with lower value on average than in the other European countries; another part of it has to do with the way we produce it, spending more hours to get the same results.

We are among the European countries where people go the bed later, something which experts in sleep medicine call delayed sleep phase. How does a professor of economics as you see this behaviour, its causes and its effects? I have no opinion. So far it has not been a subject on which I have reflected. Following the previous question, I realize that a relevant question is whether the lower productivity per hour may be associated with bedtime habits and with sleep. But I do not have the answer.

Some international studies associate sleep deprivation with lower productivity, reflected in GDP. Can you comment on that?
Although I have never collaborated on studies pertaining to that, it is a plausible outcome. In general, as we put more resources into something, the additional gain in terms of results tends to be smaller – the famous scale economies usually arise in early stages of production or work. Looking at the time spent working, it is perfectly reasonable to think that, from a certain number of hours, additional time spent working will not be very effective, and it is simply time taken away from sleep. In addition to the dimension of productivity loss in GDP, it might also be important to know whether there are consequences in terms of disease (and I believe there is some evidence in this direction) and satisfaction.

Do you know any study in Portugal that has assessed the effects of sleep disturbances in economic terms?
I do not, and this topic is also absent from the subjects of health economics conference held this year in Portugal. It is probably a good topic for further discussion.

The time dedicated to new technologies and social networks are affecting sleep in a very negative way, according to experts in sleep medicine. How do you see this problem from an economic and productivity point of view?
If indeed there is a causal relationship between sleep deprivation and productivity, we will have a cost in productivity. But the use of social networks and new technologies can also be problematic in the workplace, or even, if done well, enhance productivity. Not to mention the effects of satisfaction that it might produce. Economic effects probably go far beyond what might be the effects on productivity via sleep.

Many politicians admit to having little sleep. Does it worry you, considering the essential decisions they make?
Yes. Especially in the sense that sleep deprivation implies a loss of analytical skills and insight, leading to more impulsive decisions.

What do you think about the expression that God does not sleep?
Only that it implies the constant presence ascribed to God.

Do you often have insomnia? Do you fall asleep easily? Are you more of an “owl” or a “lark”?
I usually do not have insomnia. Typically, it takes me five minutes or less to fall asleep. I have always been more of a lark. The fresh morning, when light starts to emerge, is far more interesting to me than the dark of the night.

What makes you lose sleep?
It is curious to have to think about it. I rarely ever lose sleep. The most common situation is probably the concern about having to wake up early, earlier than usual, due to some appointment. It usually happens when I travel and have to catch a plane at six in the morning and I fear that the alarm does not go off. Everything else usually does not stop me from falling asleep quickly.

Were there moments in your life when dreams provide good advice? To what extent did they help?
In general, sleeping well has always been a way of getting good advice. Whether it is to make decisions or to finish some work in progress, I prefer to rest and to get up early to resume. Often it confirms the initial intuition, and decisions are not made rashly. At other times, it changes the perspective, usually reducing the importance of the problema.

Do you remember any amusing personal or professional history related to sleep?
Not really, my life is quite predictable and somewhat laughable. The closest to “amusing” is probably the time I fell asleep watching one of the political debates of the year and, the next day, had to express my inability in commenting on what was said during my 30-minute nap… The most grotesque episode occurred when, during a class, a Danish student dropped her head on the table, forehead to the top, her body well aligned, and slept an hour and a half. It was morning and last night there had been a party in college. Because she was not used to our schedules, or maybe to her schedules, she only moved when and because we had to leave the room. Every now and then there are students sleeping in class, but in the front row and in that immediate and extended way is something unusual.