Sleep Deprivation at Work: How It Affects Performance

Over the past decade or so, it’s become increasingly apparent that sleep deprivation is a major factor in impairing work performance. A Harvard Medical School round-up of work-related errors in which sleep deprivation is thought to have played a role includes the near-nuclear meltdown at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania in the late 1970s, the mid-1980s real nuclear accident at Chernobyl, and even the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle.

Lack of sleep can impair work performance, motivation, and mood.

The Harvard Medical School publication cites National Sleep Foundation statistics indicating that 60% of drivers indicate that they have driven while being drowsy at some point in the last 12 months. Astonishingly, more than 33% have actually fallen asleep at the wheel during the same period. These conditions cause at least 100,000 collisions each year.

Why? Well, getting less than 8 hours a night — especially getting significantly less or being deprived over a significant period of time — has measurable effects on multiple factors that affect performance. Your ability to focus goes downhill. Your ability to react logically and quickly is negatively affected.

Sleep deprivation makes people feel tired and fatigued, which affects their motivation. It affects reaction time, which can delay effective responses both in emergency situations and in strategizing how to respond to competition.

Getting less than the optimal amount of sleep also affects one’s mood. People can lose their tempers far more easily if they’re tired, or be far less likely to network effectively.

How to Combat Sleep Deprivation

Fortunately, sleep deprivation is easy to fight. It has a simple solution: get more sleep.

But, as many sleep-deprived people can attest, that may be easier said than done.

The best way to eliminate sleep deprivation is to follow these steps.

  1. Determine the factors causing it

Think through why you may be sleep deprived. There may be multiple factors, and the first step to combatting them is to itemize them. Are you keyed up at night? Feel you must check your phone? Is it your only time to binge watch? Is your bedroom conducive to sleep? Does your partner keep different hours?

  1. Reduce the factors keeping you from sleep

Then, based on the factor(s), reduce or eliminate them.

It may be tough, but if you’re reading your smartphone late at night, for example, stop doing it. Turn it off and place it far enough away that you’ll have to get out of bed to access it.

If late night TV is the problem, stream the program(s) later. If it’s a problem with elements in your bedroom or sleep area, strategize removing them.

If your spouse reads in bed, for example, work out an alternative. If light comes in through the window, invest in heavier blinds or wear eyeshades. If you have noisy neighbors, wear earplugs.

If you’re keyed up late at night, institute soothing rituals. This is different for everyone, but listening to calming music or reading works for many people. So does, and we mean it, closing your eyes and counting sheep or drinking a warm beverage like decaffeinated tea.

  1. Follow a schedule

Finally, human bodies are accustomed to falling asleep on a pretty set schedule. If you usually fall asleep at midnight, that’s what your body is prepared to do. Start going to bed earlier in increments until you have established a pattern where you can sleep 8 hours and still get up and go to work.

Sleep deprivation can impair work performance across the board. These 3 steps will help you get enough sleep and feel refreshed.

Share This Post: