“Did you sleep well?” is an extremely common question. While in most situations, this question can be answered simply and politely, this is not always the case. As we detail below there is actually a lot of nuance around how to answer questions regarding the quality of your sleep.
If in doubt, a simple “Fine thank you, and you?” in a non-aggressive and even tone serves perfectly well.
The context of the situation and intent of the person asking the question will both guide your response. Depending on these factors the correct response may range from the very simple, to a more detailed description of your sleep.
There are even times when this particular question can be used against you.
A study in 2012 showed that “early birds” earn on average between 4 to 5 percent more than night owls. The perception that someone is not sufficiently rested, or able to cope with an early morning start, can have a real effect on their career prospects.
In certain circumstances, this seemingly innocuous question should therefore be given proper consideration before being answered.
Read on how to find out the best way to answer this question in any situation you encounter it.
Determining context and intent
Before you answer the question “Did you sleep well last night?”. There are two factors you need to first assess. These are context and intent.
Context refers to the particular circumstances in which you are being asked the question. This will make a significant difference to how you should answer this question.
For the majority of situations, if someone asks you if you slept well last night, then they are simply employing a nicety or making small talk. This is in much the same way that someone might ask you about the weather or if you “caught the game” last night.
A common scenario is being on holiday with friends or colleagues. Because you are in a new city or town, it makes sense to politely inquire if someone has slept well.
In this case an answer like:
“Yes, very well thank you.”
Is perfectly sufficient. It would also be polite to inquire if they likewise have had a good night’s sleep. If you didn’t enjoy a good night’s sleep, it would be normal to respond with something like.
“Not the best night’s sleep, unfortunately. I guess I’m still adjusting to the time difference”
As with most small talk, it is generally not necessary to convey too much information to a query like this. This type of question can be naturally followed by asking the same question back.
Of course, if someone you are very close to, like a family member is asking the question, then feel free to provide as much information about your sleep quality as you would normally share.
At a hotel, B&B or other holiday accommodation
Another common situation where you will be asked this question is when you are staying at a hotel, bed and breakfast or similar holiday accommodation. Your host will naturally want to know if you are enjoying your stay at their accommodation.
If you have enjoyed a good night’s sleep then you could answer as follows.
“Very well thank you, the bed was very comfortable. We are really enjoying our stay.”
Of course, you may not have enjoyed the best night’s sleep. In this case you want to be polite, but still look for a solution.
“Unfortunately, there was quite a lot of noise from the street. Would it be possible to move us to a different room towards the back of the hotel?”
The key here is to politely, but clearly, point out that you are having trouble sleeping and what is causing the issue. Try to avoid placing blame or insulting the accommodation.
Instead focus on the desired outcome which allows you to have a better night’s sleep that evening.
Another situation where you are likely to be asked this question is by a doctor or nurse. Given the context of this situation, you should answer as accurately and truthfully as possible.
This is quite different to the scenarios laid out above. Here the medical professional has a genuine need to accurately determine your quality of sleep.
Another harmless reason to ask about sleep is if, for example, a family member seemed ill the day before and had to cough frequently.
In the workplace
The final scenario where this question is often posed is in the workplace. The question may come from a colleague, employer or client. In many cases, the correct response is a polite but simple one.
However, in some situations you may need to be even more on guard. This brings us to the second part of responding correctly which is assessing intent.
Determining the intent of the inquiry
Questions of a more personal nature such as a query about whether you slept well are often completely harmless. But this is not always the case. In some situations, particularly in workplaces, the intent of the query may be less well intentioned.
Some people will use personal questions in order to either undermine another person or to derive information that can be used against them.
For example, a person seeking to undermine a colleague may pose the question during a meeting, in order to imply that the other person is not fully alert.
This type of behavior is, much more common than many people realize. In a Harvard Business Review study, which surveyed 14,000 employees, it was found that 98% had experienced uncivil behavior in the workplace.
Unfortunately, passive aggressive attempts to undermine and the spreading of gossip are too common forms of uncivil behavior in the modern professional workplace.
The reason that this type of behavior is common, is because it exists in a “gray” area. It doesn’t necessarily seem inappropriate or aggressive, but the intent can still be malicious.
Outward aggression is generally frowned upon in most workplaces. Feigned concern is a common tactic used by people who have ill intent, but don’t want to outwardly appear that way to other people.
People who try and use these types of questions against you, will usually not be friends or colleagues that you are close to. If you have observed that someone who fits this description, often asks personal questions then you should be on your guard.
Workplace perception of sleep
According to a 2008 study, the standard working hours at most businesses is between 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. With a workday that typically begins between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m., there is strong bias favoring people who are alert and functioning well during the morning.
People who have genetic disposition towards early rising, will inevitably be better rested than those who prefer to go to sleep later. Executives, who are often the benefactor of this bias, are likewise more likely to be morning people themselves.
Given the lack of general understanding of the genetic factors relating to sleep cycles, there is often a misperception that people who are tired in the morning are undisciplined. What all of this means is that being viewed as someone who “sleeps poorly” can be viewed negatively.
While this is obviously a wider issue, that should be addressed through greater understanding, this bias can be used against individuals who are unable to get a good night’s sleep.
Don’t over react
If someone’s intentions are malicious the simple question of asking if you slept well can be actually quite damaging. So, it can be tempting to overact to the question.
For example, by answering “It is none of your business”. Such a response, while warranted, may come across as unprofessional and like you are the aggressive party.
Or if you are genuinely having trouble with your sleep or you are stressed in some other way, this question can seem a good opportunity to unburden yourself. It is almost certainly best to wait until you are talking to someone you truly trust, rather than disclosing information that could be spread as malicious gossip.
The key when being questioned in a work situation by someone you are not close to is to take a calm and deliberate approach to your response.
Before answering pause for a moment and quickly assess the situation.
- What is this person asking this question?
- What is their motivation for asking?
- Could my answer be used against me?
Remember, that in the vast majority of cases, when someone asks if you slept well, they are either being polite and genuinely concerned about your welfare.
However, the small number of people who do use information against you, means that it is worthwhile taking a moment to think the situation through.
When we unwrap the question “Did you sleep well?” we can see that it is actually a deeply personal question. People who are experiencing sleeping challenges, may view this question as opening to unburden themselves.
If you do want to talk about the quality of sleep make sure it’s kept a secret in a trusted circle. When in doubt a simple response affirming a good night’s sleep is almost always the best approach.