How Sleep Deprivation Affects Work and Performance

When you can barely keep your eyes open, it goes without saying that you will not be able to get much work done.

In the current highly technological and hyper-connected world, we are spending longer hours at work which greatly affects our sleep patterns. In America, it is estimated that 30% of adults and 66% of adolescents are suffering from sleep deprivation.

This number is staggering given the recent grave findings of how lack of sleep affects our health. It turns out that getting inadequate sleep every night can profoundly affect your performance at work beyond just being sluggish. This article will look at these effects briefly.

What is sleep deprivation and why you should be worried

Adults are supposed to sleep for 7-8 hours a day while adolescents should have 10 hours of sleep time every night. Anything less than this is categorized as sleep deprivation.

Working across time zones, international travel, working according to shift patterns, artificial lighting and using hand-held technologies such as smartphones at night, have all been associated with sleep deprivation, especially amongst employees.

A recent study led by Professor Vicki Culpin explored the potentially detrimental effects of sleep deprivation among over 1000 professionals of all working levels and the findings are interesting.

The effects of sleep deprivation 

Sleep deprivation leads to poor performance and diminished productivity

sleep deprived man at workAdults should get bet a minimum of 7 hours of sleep with a range of between 7-8 hours to avoid over sleeping. The research by professor Culpin found that most of the professionals surveyed only average around 6 hours and 28 minutes.

Even though an extra 30 minutes of sleep does not sound like much, you could be surprised the kind of effect it will have on your performance at work. Many of the survey respondents reported slowed performance of work because of fatigue, with over half complaining of struggling to stay awake at meetings, taking longer to generate new ideas and also taking a long time to complete normal tasks.

Furthermore, participants of the survey admitted that they experienced a lack of focus, reduced motivation and low creativity.

Even the successful people in the society have spoken out on the importance of sleep, and the benefits of having a sleep schedule. Most of them believe that enough sleep is quite essential for increased productivity at workplace and therefore adequate time of sleep should be set aside. 

Sleep deprivation affects your physical health

Lack of adequate sleep can cause significant physical effects apart from a general lethargic feeling. For example, in another study led by Dr. Hult, participants reported other extreme physical symptoms due to sleep deprivation such as palpitations and heartburn.

This is in accordance with various established studies that have shown a clear connection between sleep quality and physical fitness. Sleep deprivation decreases your immune function hence making you more prone to common maladies which can slow your performance, affect work attendance and potentially damage your career.

According to this study, professionals who averaged less than 7 hours of sleep per night were more susceptible to catching the common cold. Long term sleep deprivation leads to what scientists call ‘sleep debt.’ This brings about the risk of serious medical issues such as heart disease, obesity, and even diabetes.

Lack of sleep negatively affects your social, psychological and emotional stability

Not sleeping enough has also been shown to have a dramatic effect on feelings and mood. Some of the more profound impacts of sleeplessness are: hallucinations, paranoia, loss of eye focus, mania and short-term memory loss. Lack of sleep for long periods of time can lead to strokes and ultimate death.

In an organizational environmental, the subtler effects can prove daunting. For instance, lack of sleep affects communication and teamwork which is an essential ingredient for professional success. In the same study by Dr. Hult, an overwhelming 84% of the respondents reported more irritability at work as a result of little sleep. Over half also admitted to being anxious, frustrated and experiencing higher stress levels.

Together with negative emotional impact, lack of sleep can affect your cognitive functions such as judgement, perception, decision making and reaction time. Staying at the office for more than 16 hours has been shown to have the same behavioral effects as drinking two glasses of wine.


Clearly, the impacts of a sleep deprived workforce to a corporation can be disastrous. History alone has shown its deadly effects since the Chernobyl nuclear explosion, the Challenger space shuttle disaster, as well as the Exxon Valdez oil spill were all as a result of fatigue. It is clear that sleep deprivation is a hidden threat to most if not all business entities that should be dealt with properly.

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