, Volume 54, Issue 5, pp 1715–1742 | Cite as

Circadian Rhythms, Sleep, and Cognitive Skills: Evidence From an Unsleeping Giant

  • Osea GiuntellaEmail author
  • Wei Han
  • Fabrizio Mazzonna


This study analyzes the effects of sleep duration on cognitive skills and depression symptoms of older workers in urban China. Cognitive skills and mental health have been associated with sleep duration and are known to be strongly related to economic behavior and performance. However, causal evidence is lacking, and little is known about sleep deprivation in developing countries. We exploit the relationship between circadian rhythms and bedtime to identify the effects of sleep using sunset time as an instrument. Using the Chinese Health and Retirement Longitudinal Study, we show that a later sunset time significantly reduces sleep duration and that sleep duration increases cognitive skills and eases depression symptoms of workers aged 45 years and older. The results are driven by employed individuals living in urban areas, who are more likely to be constrained by rigid work schedules. We find no evidence of significant effects on the self-employed, non-employed, or farmers.


Sleep deprivation Cognitive skills Risky behaviors 



We are thankful to James Fenske, Daniele Paserman, and Guglielmo Weber for their comments and suggestions. We also thank seminar attendees at the University of Oxford and at the Conference on Health, Demography and Ageing in China, Stanford Center for International Development, October 2015.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Population Association of America 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EconomicsUniversity of PittsburghPittsburghUSA
  2. 2.World Bank OfficeBeijingChina
  3. 3.Department of EconomicsUniversita’ della Svizzera ItalianaLuganoSwitzerland

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