How Sleep deprivation affects our performance in the workplace?

In February 2015 the journal of the National Sleep Foundation published that adults (18 to 64 years old) require between 7 to 9 hours of sleep per day so adults who fall below this range are in sleep deficit. How exactly does sleep deficiency affect our performance and engagement in the workplace?

In this era of 24/7 access to communication, information, digital leisure, retail etc. our ability to make a conscious decision to “end the day” has dramatically diminished in the past decade. Add to the equation poor quality of sleep (eg: apnea), insomnia, jet-lag, or unexpected disruptions (eg: children’s sleep issues), and the result is rather catastrophic. Sleep deficiency has become a global pandemic and businesses are paying a very high cost for it: in the UK, an average of £2,120 /employee/annum1 to be more precise.

Please realise that no amount of the strongest coffee or energy drinks will alter the effects of sleep deficiency: They are far reaching, damaging to health (physical and mental), and incur huge hidden costs to businesses through presenteeism2, lack of efficiency and lack of engagement.

Mental aptitudes:

Nowadays in modern Britain, a lot of jobs rely on the good functioning of a clear mind. Employees are chosen for their ability to judge a situation and take appropriate actions fast. In other words, they require the firing of our “thinking brain”, but without the right amount and the right quality of sleep, the brain simply cannot access its higher level of reasoning. Tired people may look “ok” (because their body is fighting fatigue by producing cortisol and adrenalin), but their mental abilities such as contextual judgement, critical thinking, complex reasoning, creativity, and troubleshooting are diminished immediately and significantly. A decrease in mental abilities is difficult to spot at first but the effects will become apparent over time.

Social aptitudes:

  A decrease in social abilities is often the first visible symptom to others in the work environment. Loss of awareness and confidence creeps in with bouts of unexpected impatience, lethargy or mood swings. Colleagues will notice a delayed ability to communicate or process information and a diminution in cognitive and memory performances. Fatigue also messes with the hunger-signalling hormones so sleep deprived colleagues are more likely to graze on fatty and sugary food throughout the day, unaware of the extent of their bad eating habits.

Physical aptitudes:

This is the area where sleep deprivation can have the most dramatic consequences. Our body gets affected in two different ways: Firstly, the immune system loses its ability to efficiently fight or recover from illnesses. Sleep helps the body heal and repair, so the cardiovascular system of a chronically tired person is more likely to develop heart diseases, especially in view of bad eating habits highlighted above. Secondly, the nervous system being in constant overload and not able to rest and reset, it cannot perform as well as it should, causing delayed reactions, loss of focus, and a decrease in coordination skills. To top it up, sleep deprivation is counteracted by a survival instinct to take more risks, so the combination can have devastating consequences. Of course most readers will be able to visualise physical accidents such as workshop accidents but this is the same set of circumstances that will get an employee to hit “reply all” instead of “reply” to a sensitive email, or add another “0” to a purchase order, or administer the wrong amount of medication, or tick a box to approve a design process milestone by mistake, etc.

Businesses are becoming more aware of sleep being a primary pillar of health. Supporting good sleep amongst employees, is not only a way to improve their physical and mental health, efficiency and engagement. It also shows a great level of corporate responsibility.

Isabelle Edmondson, Founder of Good Sleepers

  1. ‘Why Sleep Matters – The Economic Costs of Insufficient Sleep’, Dr Marco Hafner, Rand Europe.
  2. the practice of coming to work despite illness, injury, anxiety, tiredness, etc., often resulting in reduced productivit

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