If you subscribe to the “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” school of thought, it might be wise to think again. Sleep deprivation causes poorer performance and productivity in the workplace and it can take a serious toll on cognitive abilities like judgment, reaction time and decision-making.  It also has the potential for catastrophic workplace mistakes.

The Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School found the negative effects of sleep deprivation to be so great that people who are drunk outperform those lacking sleep. Lack of sleep can have dangerous repercussions for people whose jobs demand critical attention to detail such as surgeons, pilots and drivers. The Chernobyl nuclear explosion, the Exxon Valdez oil spill and the Challenger space shuttle disaster were all the result of human error caused by fatigue.

In today’s hyper-connected, “always-on” working culture, people often spend long hours working, but findings from a recent report by the Hult International Business School, The Wake-up Call: The importance of sleep in organisational life, suggest that lack of sleep can seriously hinder performance at work and can also lead to damaging physical and emotional side effects.

Although some might want to stay up late and work, other workers would love to sleep but can’t. Older people, parents of young children and people who are stressed and anxious all struggle to get a full night’s sleep. The National Sleep Foundation recommends seven to nine hours of sleep a night for adults under 65, but in the Hult survey of 1000 professionals, respondents averaged only six hours 28 minutes a night. Professor Vicki Culpin says the effects of this sleep deficit were notable.

“Many survey respondents reported poorer workplace performance due to tiredness, with over half admitting to struggling to stay focused in meetings, taking longer to complete tasks, and finding it challenging to generate new ideas. Along with a lack of focus and diminished creative capacities, participants also indicated a reduced motivation to learn and less ability to manage competing demands.”

The cumulative effect of this sleep deficit seems to be contributing to a less productive workforce. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the average professional spends nearly five hours doing additional work at home each week, suggesting a cycle in which workers are less productive during business hours because they’re tired, so they have to bring work home — to the continued detriment of their sleep.

Along with a general feeling of lethargy, poor sleep can depress the immune function and increase susceptibility to common illnesses like colds. It can also negatively affect cognitive function and memory, which can be detrimental on the job, but the subtler effects of poor sleep can prove equally challenging in an organisational environment.

“A significant number of survey respondents found the interpersonal aspects of their role especially difficult when tired,” says Culpin.

“The frayed nerves, moodiness, and lack of focus associated with sleep deprivation can put a big strain on the key social relationships fostered in the workplace. Many respondents reported experiencing higher levels of stress, irritability, anxiety and feelings of frustration. Feelings of withdrawal and a lack of optimism about the future were also frequently cited, supporting the relationship between poor sleep and poor mental health.”

Other strategies to try are cutting out caffeine, which increases adrenaline production and blocks sleep-inducing chemicals in the brain. Try decaffeinated drinks or herbal teas such as camomile to help induce sleep. Short-wavelength ‘blue’ light emitted by our favourite evening devices — laptops, tablets and mobile phones — impairs melatonin production and interferes with the ability to fall asleep as well as quality of sleep.

“TV is okay for most people if they sit far enough away from the set but if they must use a device in the evening, they can limit their exposure with a filter or protective eye wear,” says Bradberry. “And working in the evening stimulates people into an alert state when they should be winding down and relaxing in preparation for sleep. Recent surveys show roughly 60 per cent of people monitor their smartphones for work emails until they go to sleep. Work before bed should be avoided for quality sleep.”

Waking up at the same time every day improves mood and sleep quality by regulating the circadian rhythm.

“Roughly an hour before waking, hormone levels increase gradually, causing people to become more alert. This is why they often find themselves waking up just before their alarm goes off. Sleeping in on the weekend is counter-productive because it messes with the circadian rhythm. You’ll feel groggy and tired on Monday because your brain hasn’t prepared your body to be awake.”


● Stay away from sleeping pills

● Cut out caffeine

● Wake at the same time every day

● Don’t binge-sleep on the weekend

● Avoid blue light at night

● Wind down before bedtime

● Eliminate interruptions

● Lie on an acupressure mat

● Sleep under a weighted blanket

● Meditate

● If all else fails, nap

– New Zealand Herald


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