Friday, 19 June 2009

Performance, mood and tiredness

There appears to be little evidence that a good mood positively affects performance. If that were not enough, research suggests that a bad mood can produce better performance. Watcha know?

Not only that, but researchers think that performance and mood are not adversely affected by a gradual reduction in sleep. In an experiment, sleep was reduced over a 6 – 8 month period, to about 5 hours per night, with no measurable behavioural effects. Whatever you do, please do not mention this to anyone who knows me – having the alarm go off at 6am is quite bad enough!

I can’t tell you what bad news this is to a chronically-positive-sleep-loving person like me. But isn’t it interesting? It appears to fly in the face of what I (mostly) experience for myself. When I’m in a great mood, I get loads done, and when I am very tired, I’m both unhappy and unproductive.

However, I wouldn’t be telling the truth if I didn’t admit to those times when I’ve been in a bad mood, but still been productive. Or had a dreadful night’s sleep but still got loads done. When I am under pressure I can still do good work even though I feel dreadful. And, dare I say it, there are times when I am in a good mood, have had loads of sleep, but somehow fail to set the world on fire.

So I draw some rather depressing conclusions. Whilst I would prefer to be well rested and happy, neither appears to be particularly necessary to high performance: until I can find some contradictory evidence, of course.

Any discussion about sleep, mood and performance would not be complete without mentioning chemical helpers. After years of being a caffeine-free zone I am back to drinking green tea by the swimming pool. I don’t drink coffee, but green tea has more than enough caffeine. And, yes, I think it helps to stay alert and improve concentration. It won’t be news to many of you that researchers have found Red Bull to be positively correlated with better concentration and performance. I’ve never tried the stuff myself, having scared everyone witless with my experiments with energy-boosting Guarana powder. Caffeine and Guarana certainly have the disadvantage that they can disrupt sleep, causing more, rather than less, tiredness. I imagine Red Bull would do the same.

So I guess any attempt to gradually reduce sleep would need to done without alcohol, caffeine, Red Bull or Guarana. But would it result in better or worse performance? I’ve got a particularly busy time coming up – I wonder whether now is a good time to give it a go?

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