I found some pages in Why We Sleep that seem to answer your argument, and tried to quote the essence of it:
Early studies demonstrated that shorter sleep amounts predict lower work rate and slow completion speed of basic tasks. That is, sleepy employees are unproductive employees. Sleep-deprived individuals also generate fewer and less accurate solutions to work-relevant problems they are challenged with. [W. B. Webb and C. M. Levy, “Effects of spaced and repeated total sleep deprivation”]
We have since designed more work-relevant tasks to explore the effects of insufficient sleep on employee effort, productivity, and creativity. Creativity is, after all, lauded as the engine of business innovation. Give participants the ability to choose between work tasks of varying effort, from easy (e.g., listening to voice mails) to difficult (e.g., helping design a complex project that requires thoughtful problem solving and creative planning), and you find that those individuals who obtained less sleep in the preceding days are the same people who consistently select less challenging problems. They opt for the easy way out, generating fewer creative solutions in the process. [...]
take the same individuals and repeat this type of experiment twice, once when they have had a full night of sleep and once when they are sleep-deprived, and you see the same effects of laziness caused by a lack of sleep when using each person as their own baseline control. [M. Engle-Friedman and S. Riela, “Self-imposed sleep loss, sleepiness, effort and performance”] [...]
The irony that employees miss is that when you are not getting enough sleep, you work less productively and thus need to work longer to accomplish a goal. [...]
Interestingly, participants in the above studies do not perceive themselves as applying less effort to the work challenge, or being less effective, when they were sleep-deprived, despite both being true. They seemed unaware of their poorer work effort and performance—a theme of subjective misperception of ability when sleep-deprived that we have touched upon previously in this book. Even the simplest daily routines that require slight effort, such as time spent dressing neatly or fashionably for the workplace, have been found to decrease following a night of sleep loss. [M. Engle-Friedman and S. Riela, “Self-imposed sleep loss, sleepiness, effort and performance”] Individuals also like their jobs less when sleep-deprived—perhaps unsurprising considering the mood-depressing influence of sleep deficiency.
I agree that everyone should be informed about the dangers of driving while sleep-deprived.
I don’t think this is a particularly good area for EAs to tackle
Would you please explain a bit about your reasoning?
There’s not some cheap supplement that everyone needs that we could just hand out. You have to be dedicated to making an against-the-grain personal behavior change to sleep more, and that’s complicated and hard. (As I say, only severe illness was able to move the needle for me.)
I am just hopeful that reading the book (or some equivalent experience that educates one about the benefits of sleep and costs of sleep-deprivation) is enough to make some people change their sleep habits.
If I let my hopefulness run wild, I imagine these few people that changed their sleep habits (like you and me) telling their friends and families about its positive consequences, who would in turn tell their friends and families, and so on.
Also, I think that advocacy is something that the EA community can be quite effective at. For example (though it is just my guess—I don’t have evidence for that), I guess the EA community helped a lot in making people less dismissive about the risk of unaligned AI.
(Honestly, I don’t think there is any neglected problem that the EA community would be ineffective against. It seems to me that this community includes many highly capable people, and so as long as some problem is quite neglected, I am sure EAs can at least find some of the low hanging fruit, as long as they direct their attention toward that problem.)
The problem of driving while sleep-deprived will likely be solved by robocars more than by any altruistic efforts.
I don’t know how much time this would take, but of course when we evaluate the scale of the problem, we should put into our calculations robocars eliminating traffic collisions at some point.
The rest of the problem seems better tackled by focusing more on the stresses that cause sleep problems, and by relatively decentralized efforts to shift our cultures to be more sleep-friendly.
I might be overestimating the amount of people that are sleep-deprived only because they don’t prioritize sleep (due to being unaware of its benefits and the costs of being sleep-deprived (both benefits and costs are very significant, according to the book and the research it references)). But if the number of these people is not trivial, getting them to sleep more seems to me like a strong combination of scale+neglectedness+solvability.
I apologize for not being clear enough.
I assumed (please correct me if I was wrong) that sleep disorders aren’t the main cause for sleep-deprivation, which means that we mainly have to deal with seemingly-easier-to-change causes (e.g., education, social norms).
(I edited the question to say this explicitly.)
I knew (generally) about the benefits of sleep before I read the book, but reading the book made this “knowing” extremely more vivid.
The thing that makes me so optimistic about getting people to sleep more is that sleep is something our body actively urges us to do.
Like our body actively urges us to eat a lot of sugar (e.g., and not vegetables), it actively urges us to sleep (unless we use caffeine, etc.).
getting people to sleep more puts “unconsciousness” up against “the most important and/or entertaining thing you believe you can do instead”.
Have you read the book or some review of it or watched/listened to some long form interview with Matthew Walker (just search in YouTube)?
I ask because I would have probably said the same if I hadn’t read it, but after reading the book, the equation for me is more like:
“unconsciousness + better memory + better processing of stuff I learned + better health + better mental health + being less hungry + feeling better while awake (+ more stuff mentioned in the book that I don’t remember at the moment)” up against “the most important and/or entertaining thing you believe you can do instead + worse memory + worse learning abilities + health problems + …”
I agree that Matthew Walker seems quite biased in favor of sleep.
Still, I don’t think he omits your point. Instead, he argues that a person’s performance (in various areas) is much worse when sleep deprived, and so a sleep deprived person that invests more time in doing stuff is still less productive than a person that gets enough sleep (and has less time to do stuff).
I highly recommend checking out the book (Why We Sleep) - it depicts many of the experiments that make Matthew so confident that he is right.
I think that’s a good point, especially with regard to young children.
With regard to jobs, if sleep is well-known to make employees more productive, maybe employers would (someway) encourage employees to get more sleep. (On the other hand, it might make employers less willing to hire people that don’t get enough sleep, but I am going deep into speculation-land here.)
I edited my phrasing from “quite solvable” to “at least partially easy to solve (relatively to other issues)”.