How Losing Sleep Affects Your Work

Losing a few hours of sleep seems harmless, especially when you have a busy working schedule. However, sleep deprivation can lead to decreased productivity and even health complications.

Sleep Fuels Your Productivity

It may seem like ‘burning the midnight oil’ is a great way to get a head start on work. Simply losing one or two hours of sleep can’t possibly hurt, right? Wrong. Losing sleep can have devastating effects on your productivity and life. The hours you’re putting into those late nights are actually working against you!

Even just one night of sleep deprivation can have serious consequences that can stretch days or even weeks. These effects can span from increased anxiety levels to lower cognitive performance like remembering basic things.

Chronic sleep loss can ultimately lead to poor health, performance, and safety. In contrast, getting sufficient sleep can help maintain our physical, cognitive, and emotional health in great shape. It’s important to get sufficient sleep.

Companies should pay more attention to this because it could have a direct impact on their bottom line in conjunction with the detriment to their employees’ well-being.

Common Causes for Loss of Sleep

Loss of sleep, or sleep deprivation, can occur for numerous reasons. In most cases it comes down to poor habits, like regularly partying or binge watching movies until the wee hours of the morning. Working late nights can also create poor sleeping habits that disrupt the time and quality of your sleep.

Other habits can factor in as well. Consuming caffeine or alcohol late in the day are known to disrupt important features of sleep that relate to sleep quality. Staring at screens late in the day, especially those that use brighter LEDs, have been shown to hamper our circadian rhythm. This can make healthier sleep habits more difficult to start.

Insufficient sleep can also be the result of clinical disorders like insomnia, sleep apnea, or depression. In some extreme cases, more serious conditions like issues with the heart, lungs, or kidneys could be the culprit. Regardless, failing to address the cause can snowball into greater risks down the line.

How Much Sleep Do We Need?

The exact amount of time needed for a good night’s rest depends on each person. Newborns might need 14 hours or more of sleep while adults over the age of 18 only need an average of 8 hours per night. And yet, it’s not always easy to get the recommended daily hours of sleep with a busy working lifestyle. Nevertheless, putting work over sleep will quickly take its toll.

“One beer has the same impact on a person with four hours of sleep as six beers has on a well-rested person.” – UCLA Sleep Disorder Center

Before someone goes and says, “But I’m not them, I don’t need more than a few hours every night.” Consider the science and probabilities before assuming this to be the case for you, or someone you know.

According to neuroscientist Matthew Walker, “[In] 10,000 empirical scientific studies, the number of people who can survive on six hours of sleep or less without showing any impairment, rounded to a whole number and expressed as a percent of the population, is zero.”

How Sleep Loss Causes Work Concerns

It’s important to understand what the effects of poor sleep are on your overall work performance. Just 1.5 hours less of sleep each night can reduce your daytime alertness by as much as 32 percent! With that much attention lost, you might just be adding to your workload.

Common concerns with the average working person that is deprived of sleep include:

Difficulty Focusing

Aside from getting you feeling moody, lack of sleep can make it difficult to pay attention. When you go to sleep, you’re giving time for your body to repair and restore itself on a cellular level. Scientists measuring the effects of sleep deprivation have found decreased alertness and concentration as a result. This, in turn, also affects our ability to make good decisions.

Which means a lack of focus won’t only affect your ability to pay attention at work. It also means you won’t be able to make good decisions while at work. Ultimately, this could lead to catastrophic results if you skip over any important safety procedure or something of the like.

Poor Memory

Research points to sleep being a key contributor in strengthening the connections between the neurons that form our memories. After all, our brains use our sleeping time to embed the things we’ve learned and experienced into our short-term memory. When the cycles are disrupted, it’s more likely the brain will fail to remember important details.

Forgetting to pick up the dry cleaning or wash the dishes shouldn’t affect you much. However, forgetting to miss an important call with an investor could cost you your business. A lack of attention, as mentioned above, and a loss of memory could quickly spiral out of control. Once you’ve forgotten one important detail, your peers may regard you as “unreliable”. Don’t let sleep be the cause of your professional demise.


Because memory and focus are affected, productivity and efficiency of work goes down. Work usually requires cognition to be at its peak, and for people to be able to concentrate on solving problems. A particular workflow may only require a few steps, but when sleep loss becomes a factor, the same workflow can take 3 or 4 times more steps to complete.

% Work Productivity Loss with respect to Sleep Loss by Group

Image source: Tuck

According to Optisom, over $60 Billion USD are estimated to have been lost due to lower productivity caused by poor sleep. They go on to say that “productivity losses associated with fatigue are estimated to cost $1,967 per employee annually.” For employees with insomnia, over 8 days of work performance are lost each year for similar reasons.

An analysis by Fort Healthcare shows that by reducing your nighttime sleep by as little as 1.5 hours for just one night could result in a reduction of daytime alertness by as much as 32 percent.

“Severe insomnia causes employees to miss work twice as often as good sleepers”

– National Sleep Foundation

Excessive Daytime Sleepiness

It should come at no surprise that a loss of sleep can make you feel tired throughout the day. Losing sleep will naturally make your mind and body feel tired. This is especially true when the hours lost begin to pile up. 2 hours one day, 2 the next, and 2 more the day after doesn’t mean you’ve lost 2 hours. It means you’ve lost 6 and have now missed out on a full night’s sleep; these are hours that can never be recovered.

Being tired at work can lead to drowsiness and sleeping on the job. It doesn’t look very good on anyone’s job application that “they have difficulty keeping their eyes open at work.”

Increased Risk of Traffic Accidents

One of the more tragic of the symptoms of poor sleep is an increased risk of being in a traffic accident. Impaired focus, memory, react-ability, and drowsiness behind the wheel can literally be deadly. Closing your eyes even for a fraction of a second too long (dubbed a “microsleep”) can be the last thing you ever do.

Over 70,000 people get into car accidents per year caused by fatigue and sleep deprivation, and over 6,000 people die from those accidents. Don’t let the overtime hours you’re spending for work be the end of you. No promotion is worth your life.

These symptoms affect your performance at work. Less productivity due to an inability to pay attention and a propensity for forgetfulness. No matter how much effort is put into trying to keep these at regular levels, the shadows under your eyes tell a different story.

There’s nothing worse than being at your desk at home or at the office and feeling your eyelids drooping down. With every minute that passes your eyes become heavier and your head begins to bob down with them. It’s the exhaustion, the fatigue. You can fight with sleep and your body all you want, but eventually sleep pressure will win – and at what cost?

Health Concerns

Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to obesity, heart failure, and diabetes. The reality is that our bodies need sleep. To recuperate after a long day, to rest the eyes and mind, and to have time to regenerate cells. Our entire anatomy depends on a good night’s rest to work properly. Otherwise, why would humans spend a third of their lives sleeping?

Some complications that can arise from insufficient sleep include:

  • Depression
  • Mood disorders
  • Obesity
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke

If the conditions of health begin to reach these critical and life-threatening levels then work productivity will be the least of your worries. There is no better medicine than prevention and it doesn’t take a doctor to know sleep, hydration, proper nutrition, and exercise are the pillars to a healthy lifestyle.

The best thing to do is get ahead of the problem by eliminating it altogether. Cut that weed out by its root by treating yourself with respect and caring for your needs first.

Benefits of Good Rest

In contrast, getting sufficient sleep each night can have countless benefits. Everything from having better attention and memory to feeling more energetic and vibrant. The benefits extend beyond just a ‘feel good’ effect. Proper sleep can help your body regenerate faster and keep away the common cold.

NASA, Google, Samsung, and many other companies see these risks and benefits that come from sleep. Companies are installing “sleep pods,” offering nap time, and some are even offering bonuses to employees who manually record their sleep to show that they are getting enough of it.

Sleep trackers and smart watches are becoming more affordable and can be used to record the quality of sleep. They may be excellent tools for companies to offer these sorts of perks.

The data collected should not be used as a replacement for sound medical advice from a doctor. But the insights gained could be in the form of how often you wake up, how long it takes you to fall into deep sleep, and whether or not you’re getting the important REM sleep found in the later hours of sleep.

Tips for a Better Night’s Sleep

Admittedly, understanding the importance of sleep won’t necessarily help change your habits. Reading something online is not the same as taking action. Action is important. If you are curious about how you can improve your existing sleeping habits, here are a few tips:

  • Find the Right Time – Sometimes all we need is to be aware of our own sleeping patterns. You could keep a sleep journal and record the approximate times at which you fell asleep and work up. Further, you can add details like ‘what you did before sleep.’ In doing so, you can analyze the habits that keep you up and what you did on night’s where you slept very well.
  • Turn Off the LightsOur body’s natural rhythm “advises” us to sleep at night. That’s because evenings are usually darker, cooler, and more quiet. These conditions help our body feel more comfortable. If you keep the lights on in your bedroom or you try to sleep during the day, the conditions won’t be as ideal. Sleeping at night
  • Set a “Sleep Alarm” – Alarms don’t just have to be for waking up. You can set alarms for anything you need a reminder for. If you are having trouble sleeping, you can schedule an alarm for when you should ‘finish work’ and ‘get ready for bed.’ By setting these alarms, you can set strict time blocks in which to finish your work. Also, you can keep a consistent “bedtime” over a longer period of time. Consistency is key for any habit.
  • Unplug – Avoid screens or fluorescent lights 30-60 minutes before you plan on going to bed. The bright lights and screens we spend time on each day prevent us from getting to sleep on time. If we don’t unplug and allow our eyes to rest, our brain just stays active. Then the next day we’re asking ourselves why we feel so tired!

Perhaps just one or a combination of a few can help turn your sleep from insufficient to just right! The best part of trying these tips is that they shouldn’t take more than a few minutes per day to prepare. The benefits of a better night’s sleep, however, can last a lifetime.

Get Better Sleep!

Now that you have briefly read the cons of insufficient sleep, you can focus on getting adequate sleep. Whether you feel like you have any issues with your sleeping patterns or not, you can still try the tips to see how you feel the next day. A sleep journal is great exercise just to be more aware of our body and cycles.

Adding to that, keeping track of your sleep can later teach you to keep track of other facets in your life. Next time you try to adopt a new hobby, workout routine, or other challenge, you can use the same methodology. Recording these details can help you analyze how to improve on them!

Most importantly, never put a job ahead of your health. No matter how close a deadline is or how much your boss is pushing you to work harder, take care of yourself first. Sadly, most companies can replace an employee pretty quickly. Your health, on the other hand, won’t bounce back quite as fast.


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