Why sleep problems boost entrepreneurial intentions

21 August 2020

  • Sleep deprivation associated with ADHD-like tendencies, study finds
  • Impulsive behaviours encourage people to follow entrepreneurial instincts
  • Existing entrepreneurs more likely to start businesses after sleep problems
  • Research published in the journal Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice

Sleep deprivation is traditionally associated with lower productivity at work, but it can also encourage aspiring entrepreneurs to launch their own business venture, a new study shows.

Researchers found people with sleep problems were more likely to exhibit impulsive and inattentive behaviours commonly associated with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Those suffering lack of sleep and temporary 'ADHD-like tendencies' were more likely to develop entrepreneurial intentions.

This might be because irregular sleep patterns pushed people towards a more flexible lifestyle, motivated them to work towards rapid pay-offs rather than slowly saving from a regular salary, or encouraged them to view their business ideas as more feasible.

The research by Warwick Business School, the University of Central Florida, and Johns Hopkins Carey Business School was published in the paper, The Weary Founder: Sleep Problems, ADHD-Like Tendencies, and Entrepreneurial Intentions, in the journal Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice.

Mona Mensmann, Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Warwick Business School and co-author of the paper, said: “Our results suggest that sleep deprivation may nudge people towards acting on their entrepreneurial ideas, rather than simply thinking about them."

“We live in an increasingly sleepy world, so maybe now is the time for a more balanced discussion about the positive and negative impact of sleep deprivation," adds Brian Gunia, Professor of Management and Organization at Johns Hopkins Carey Business School and lead author of the paper.

“While such a view is controversial, it may help to challenge the stigma faced by those who struggle to maintain healthy sleep patterns and promote greater acceptance.”

The researchers conducted four distinct studies that connected the dots between sleep quality, temporary ADHD-like tendencies, and entrepreneurial intentions.

The first study, a randomised controlled field experiment, asked 350 people to complete surveys about their sleep patterns and ADHD-like behaviours during the previous six months and their entrepreneurial intentions.

They were then randomly split into two groups and asked to complete additional surveys after an uninterrupted or a disrupted night’s sleep.

The second and third study asked 300 people to fill out surveys that measured their entrepreneurial intentions, followed by measures of ADHD-like tendencies and sleep problems.

A fourth study carried out a survey of 176 practising entrepreneurs. The results revealed that temporary sleep problems could prompt ADHD-like tendencies and a desire to launch a new business venture, even among existing entrepreneurs.

Jeff Gish, Assistant Professor of Management at the University of Central Florida, said: “We are not advocating depriving yourself of sleep to get ahead.

“We’re saying that there appears to be an interesting link between sleep and entrepreneurship.

“ADHD-like tendencies can be a benefit, rather than a hindrance in spurring ventures. But there is a potential downside. Even though sleep problems might lure an individual to an entrepreneurial career, if the sleep problems persist, they can subsequently leave the individual without the cognitive and emotional competency to be an effective entrepreneur in-practice.”

 

Mona Mensmann teaches Starting a Business and Problem-Solving in Organisations on the Undergraduate Programme at Warwick Business School.

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