The detrimental effect of poor sleep and job performance

How much time do we spend working versus being at work?

It’s no secret that we Americans spend a LOT of time at work. In fact, according to one study, the average person’s workday is 9.5 hours long. That doesn’t include the extra four or more hours that get spent doing minor work tasks from home outside regular office hours or fielding a volley of “quick” work emails and text messages from your phone while on the subway, in traffic (*gasp*), or trying to enjoy a family movie night.

Fast forward to today’s workplace scenario, with thousands more employees working from home, and you can easily see how that workday continues to lengthen. While working from home has saved us all plenty of time and money in frustrating and congested commutes, it’s also created a scenario in which we can essentially see no end to the workday.

Something pops up at 8 p.m.? No problem, it should just take a few minutes to deal with it, right? Next thing you know that few minutes has turned into an hour, and the morning turns into the afternoon, and so on and so forth. We’ve all been guilty of trying to cram in more work before finally deciding to call it a day. And even when we do, work never seems to leave. It can be tough to shut it down and fully disconnect for the day.

Is your workday affecting your sleep pattern?

We recognize that stress and crazy work schedules can detrimentally affect your sleep patterns, but consider that the opposite is also true. A lack of sleep, or rather, of good quality sleep, can be just as detrimental to your workday productivity. In fact, it’s one of the single biggest productivity killers in the workplace.

The kicker is that there’s also no way to effectively substitute for lack of sleep; you have to simply get more.

How much sleep do you really need?

Ideally, most adults should be getting between 7-9 hours of sleep each night. Unsurprisingly, according to a CDC study, about 1/3 of Americans are getting less than 6 hours of sleep each night. This parlays into workplace fatigue in a major way. One study from 2007 found that 38 percent of Americans complained of workplace fatigue at least once in the past two weeks. Add to that the ongoing stresses of the pandemic, and that number is likely higher today. 

Sleep deprivation has dire consequences on workplace productivity

This continued lack of sleep that many of us are experiencing each day is almost like a silent thief when it comes to stealing from productive workplace behaviors and habits. In fact, some sources liken sleep deprivation at work to being under the influence of alcohol when it comes to being able to focus and achieve objectives throughout the day.

The funny thing is that so many of our employees think that by working longer hours and trying to cram in more “stuff” throughout the day, they’re being more productive – in short – a model employee. But, if they’re getting up at ungodly hours to field international conference calls, working until 11:00 at night, or going to sleep keyed up and stressed out about their day, your people are actually doing themselves and the company a huge disservice when it comes to being on the ball and alert at work.

Stealing from sleep to get more work done makes you less productive

Sleep deprivation causes our quality of work to decline. We are less focused and alert, which in turn leads to overlooking important details, making errors, and substandard results in projects, productivity, and organizational function. 

We get stuck in a vicious cycle of doing a half-assed job that we then have to revamp, revise, or even redo completely. Now one project has taken up the time of two, quite the opposite of the efficiency we were aiming for. 

Signs that you’re sleep deprived

At the risk of challenging the badge of honor that often comes with being over-caffeinated (who doesn’t like a good cup of coffee?), here are some signs that you or your employees aren’t getting the proper amount of sleep:

  • Consistently getting less than 7 hours of sleep
  • Irregular sleep patterns (going to bed and/or waking up at different times most days)
  • Agitated during the day
  • Feeling burnout
  • Struggling to creatively think through problems
  • Dozing when having a moment to rest
  • High-stress levels that may lead to out-of-character short-tempers with coworkers and/or family members

How not to be sleep-deprived in the workplace

You might not think you need a tutorial on how not to be sleep-deprived since the answer to this problem seems pretty obvious (get more sleep, dammit!), but it’s harder to implement than one might think. Good sleep can be an elusive unicorn for many of us.

Create and promote healthy sleep habits

In order to get out of a pattern that revolves around lack of sleep, the best and most efficient approach is to begin implementing healthy sleep habits. 

  1. Buy an alarm clock. Yes, you heard us, a real non-internet-connected alarm clock that sits on your nightstand and chirps at you in the morning. Now plug your phone in another room for overnight sleep and allow your body and mind to separate your bed from your phone. 
  2. Try enforcing a phone break one hour before going to bed, and don’t touch it for the rest of the night and at least 30 minutes after waking up. Actively disconnecting from all the things going on in the background of your life can send a signal to your body that it’s time to calm down and begin to unwind, promoting a more purposeful and restful sleep.
  3. Create a bedtime routine; little actions that start to trigger your brain that bedtime is approaching. Begin going to bed at the same time each night, regardless of the day, whenever possible. This trains the brain that a certain time of night is when it’s time to start winding down and chilling out.

Still tired? Try to find a time throughout each day to just lay down and close your eyes for 20-30 minutes, whether you actually doze off or not. The 20-30 minute “power nap” is the sweet spot between waking up refreshed and waking up even more tired and zombie-like. The goal is to avoid entering a REM cycle and having to wake up in the middle of it.

Implement healthy sleep strategies in the workplace

We don’t necessarily mean promoting “nap time” while at work (though it’s not a bad idea), but teaching your employees about the importance of sleep and how to achieve it is something we do well. Schedule a consultation with us to find out what aspects of your work environment or company culture are robbing people of their much-needed and much-deserved sleep. 

We can help you as the leader change your sleep habits, and we can also help your entire team implement better sleep strategies so that they show up to work refreshed, revived, and ready to tackle whatever lies ahead.


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