• Steve Nguyen, PhD

Lack of Sleep Contributes to Unethical Conduct

Updated: Jul 1

Most of us understand the importance of sleep and its impact on our health and safety.

Extending the importance of sleep further into the workplace, a recent study suggests that lack of sleep or low quality of sleep is related to unethical behavior.

Drawing from the Ego Depletion model (which says self-control requires purposeful effort that’s maintained by cognitive resources that are depleted), Barnes, Schaubroeck, Huth, & Ghumman (2011) hypothesized that lack of sleep is related to ego depletion. That is, sleep is positively related to self-control.

Barnes and colleagues had test participants record scores on a test in order to gain financial advantage. They found that those who cheated and over-reported their test scores had less sleep. Results revealed that people who cheated in an experiment averaged 22.39 minutes less sleep the night before compared to those who did not cheat.

“The effect of sleep duration on cheating was quite strong” (Barnes et al., 2011, p. 173).

The researchers were able to test and support the link between sleep and ego depletion, and extend the Ego Depletion model to include sleep as an important recovery mechanism.

Take-Away: Employees who stay up late working and miss sleep are more likely to distort/misrepresent/bend results and engage in other forms of cheating. As a manager, be sure to balance high expectations of your employees with an understanding that in order for workers to do their best, they need to replenish their physical and psychosocial health, which is the purpose of sleep.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.

Organizational & Leadership Development Leader


Barnes, C. M., Schaubroeck, J., Huth, M., & Ghumman, S. (2011). Lack of sleep and unethical conduct. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 115(2), 169-180. doi:10.1016/j.obhdp.2011.01.009

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