How Sleep Affects Work Productivity


Written by Dr. Michael Breus

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Looking for a way to boost your productivity at work? Think beyond to-do lists, calendars, and extra cups of coffee. Try getting a good night’s sleep consistently instead.

Benefits of Getting Enough Sleep

Sleep and quality job performance go hand in hand. When you get sufficient sleep, your health, well-being, and work improve.

Sleep promotes physical recovery in the body. As you sleep, your body tissues repair and strengthen. Your heart rests, and your blood pressure changes throughout the night to promote cardiovascular health. During sleep, your body also creates hormones that help your immune system fight infections, so good sleep can prevent you from getting sick and help you recover quickly.

Sleep also helps improve your mental health, mood, and brain function. When you have appropriate quantity and quality sleep, you awake feeling refreshed and energized. During sleep, your brain creates and maintains pathways that are critical for memory formation and retention. These processes help enhance learning and problem-solving skills, which are essential for top performance in the workplace.

What is Sleep Deprivation?

Put simply, sleep deprivation is the result of not getting enough sleep. Experts recommend adults get at least seven hours of sleep every night. However, as many as 35% of Americans get less than seven hours of sleep at night, and up to 70% report feeling sleep deprived regularly.

Sleep deprivation can happen to anyone, but it is quite common among caregivers and workers with multiple jobs or long shifts. Shift workers may also struggle with sleep deprivation because their routines don’t align with their natural sleep-wake cycles. Some people who feel sleep deprived regularly may have untreated anxiety or a sleep disorder.

Symptoms of sleep deprivation vary among individuals. You likely do not feel refreshed when you wake up in the morning. You might find yourself dozing off in a meeting without intending to. Changes in mood and abilities are also signs of sleep deprivation.

Effects of Sleep Deprivation on Work

Losing an hour or two of sleep for just a few nights greatly impairs your ability to function. Experts say losing sleep this way is the equivalent of functioning without an entire night or two of sleep.

Sleep deprivation symptoms include more than just feeling tired. You may feel irritable or struggle to think clearly or form memories. In fact, a lack of sleep leads to a lack of cognitive function. With your cognitive abilities lowered, you are less alert and slower to respond, which can affect your job performance. You might also struggle to make decisions and may be more likely to make mistakes. People with insomnia have decreased levels of concentration and even difficulty performing the duties of their job.

A lack of sleep can also lead to accidents or injuries in the workplace. Sleepy employees are 70% more likely to be involved in a workplace accident than workers who aren’t fatigued.

Unfortunately, sleep deprivation can give a person false confidence in their abilities. For example, they may feel capable of driving when they should not. Driving while sleep-deprived has the same or worse impacts as driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.05%.

Other sleep deprivation effects on work performance include increased absences and financial losses. The American workforce loses 1.23 million working days because of sleep-deprived employees. The economic costs of sleep deprivation ranged between $280 and $411 billion U.S. dollars in 2015.

How to Improve Your Sleep

If sleep deprivation causes you to stress about your work performance, there are several steps you can take to improve your sleep.

Improve Your Sleep Hygiene

Waking up and going to bed at the same time every day helps your body settle into a consistent rhythm for sleep. Daily exercise or outdoor activity also helps you sleep. Try to avoid exercising too close to bedtime.

Also, consider what you consume in the hours before bedtime. Nicotine and caffeine are both stimulants that can keep you awake. Avoid heavy meals and alcohol as these can disrupt your sleep in the middle of the night.

Develop Your Bedtime Routine

In the hour before bedtime, avoid artificial light from electronics, including TVs, cell phones, and computers. These lights can stimulate the brain and keep you awake longer. Instead, try a quiet and relaxing activity. Possibilities include a warm bath, meditation, reading, or listening to gentle music.

Create a Good Sleep Environment

Keep these tips in mind for creating a good sleep environment:

  • Make it Dark: Light can make sleeping difficult. Try a sleeping mask or dark curtains to keep light out of the room.
  • Eliminate Noise: Earplugs or noise-canceling headphones can block out excess noise. You might also use a fan or white noise machine to cover up unwanted sounds.
  • Cool the Room: Your body temperature decreases as you sleep. Find a temperature that doesn’t make you wake up feeling too hot or cold. Experiment with a fan or light blankets to see what feels good to you.
  • Use Your Bed for Sex and Sleep Only: If you struggle to fall asleep in bed after 20 minutes, get out of bed and do a quiet activity. Return to your bed when you feel sleepy. If your mattress is older than six years, consider a new mattress.

Consider Napping During the Day

If you find yourself drooping midday, consider taking a power nap. Napping at work for no longer than 10 to 20 minutes can give you the alertness boost you need to perform well.

Positive changes to your sleep habits won’t happen overnight. With patience and practice, you’ll find which sleep routines work best for your body and health. When you achieve better quality and quantity sleep, you can feel your best and improve your productivity at work.

About The Author

Dr. Michael Breus

Clinical Psychologist, Sleep Medicine Expert

Michael Breus, Ph.D is a Diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine and a Fellow of The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and one of only 168 psychologists to pass the Sleep Medical Specialty Board without going to medical school. He holds a BA in Psychology from Skidmore College, and PhD in Clinical Psychology from The University of Georgia. Dr. Breus has been in private practice as a sleep doctor for nearly 25 years. Dr. Breus is a sought after lecturer and his knowledge is shared daily in major national media worldwide including Today, Dr. Oz, Oprah, and for fourteen years as the sleep expert on WebMD. Dr. Breus is also the bestselling author of The Power of When, The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan, Good Night!, and Energize!

  • POSITION: Combination Sleeper
  • TEMPERATURE: Hot Sleeper

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