Late-Night Tweeting Degrades Your Performance the Next Day

A new study of NBA players documents the cost of sleep deprivation.
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Twitter can be addictive. For many people—including the commander-in-chief—the impulse to share your middle-of-the-night thoughts is so enticing that it can't wait until morning. After all, is a little less sleep really going to hurt?

A new study of NBA players reports that it does indeed: A player's shooting accuracy declines if they were up late tweeting the night before a game.

"These findings may apply widely to other sports, and other cognitive and behavioral outcomes," writes a research team led by Jason Jones, an assistant professor of sociology at Stony Brook University. Nearly one-third of Americans don't get the recommended seven-plus hours of sleep; these findings suggest the quality of their work may suffer as a result.

In the study, published in the journal Sleep Health, Jones and his colleagues note that it's difficult to get reliable reports about how much sleep a person has gotten on any given night. Memories are understandably fuzzy.

So as a proxy for sleep deprivation, they decided to track the Twitter accounts of NBA players. Since all tweets are time-stamped, the messages are a clear giveaway that a player is using social media rather than getting some shut-eye.

Their data set included 37,073 tweets from active players sent between 2009 and 2016. They noted tweets between the hours of 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. the night before a game, and noted how the players who sent them (112 in total) then performed in that contest. To ensure they were not measuring jet lag, the researchers restricted their measurements to teams playing games on their home coast.

They discovered that, compared to their performance in other games, athletes who were up late tweeting the night before "exhibited significantly worse performance" on a number of metrics, including "number of points scored, shooting percentage, and rebound."

However, they also committed fewer fouls and were responsible for fewer turnovers. That's because they spent more time than usual on the bench, presumably because their coach realized they were not playing at their best.

"The critical measure of shooting accuracy provides the clearest evidence of a performance penalty following late-night tweeting activity," the researchers write. "Players successfully made shots at a rate 1.7 percentage points less following late-night tweeting."

Jones and his colleagues note that these results cannot prove that lack of sleep caused the less-productive performances. In some cases, it's possible a third factor, such as worry over some sort of serious problem, led to both poor sleep and sloppy play on the court.

But if you were a world leader widely ridiculed for being incompetent, wouldn't you want to test whether turning off the phone and getting a sound night's sleep might lead to better decision-making? These results confirm that sufficient sleep is a must, even if you're a world-class athlete—or a very stable genius.

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