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Sleep and Work Performance: What You Need to Know

Balancing a career, social life, exercise, family commitments and other activities while trying to get enough sleep every night can be easier said than done. However, lack of sleep has a number of negative effects on both mind and body, and can poorly impact work performance. On the other hand, getting enough sleep can boost productivity and energy levels. Let’s take a look.

The relationship between sleep and work performance

As of May 2021, the average number of hours worked by full-time workers in the UK was 35 hours a week1. This works out at around 7-8 hours a day. The average adult also needs between 6-9 hours of sleep a night2, depending on your routine and other factors.

With more of us working from home, some have found they end up working more hours, as it can be harder to switch off and leave your desk behind.

This relationship is an interdependent one. Work schedules can impact sleep, while sleep can also impact work performance.

How sleep deprivation affects work performance

Sleep deprivation and work don’t exactly go hand in hand. Being sleep deprived can leave you feeling:

  1. Less creative
  2. Tired
  3. Unable to focus3

What’s more, without enough sleep, employees have more difficulty concentrating, learning, communicating and remembering things4. In short: general inefficiency and lack of productivity.

It also leads to irritability, which can not only affect performance, but relationships in the workplace also. This can, in turn, contribute to feelings of job dissatisfaction.

Slows down thought processes

Some studies have found that sleepiness makes it more difficult to focus and concentrate, hampering your ability to perform certain tasks, particularly complex ones5. This is obviously not good news in the workplace.

Causes stress

There’s a strong link between stress and sleep. Lack of sleep can increase stress levels, while stress can leave people tossing and turning at night. Add to this the general stresses of working life and work can quickly become extremely unenjoyable.

Impairs memory

While one poor night’s sleep isn’t the end of the world, chronic sleepiness can lead people to forget and misplace things more easily. This is because sleep has many phases, each of them playing a role in consolidating new information into memories. Disrupted sleep interferes with these cycles.

Plus, if you’re not able to focus on what’s in hand, that further weakens memory.

The wider effects of sleep loss

It’s not all about work, sleep deprivation has many negative effects on your overall life, which include:

  1. Increased risk of certain medical conditions e.g.
    1. Obesity
    2. Heart disease
    3. Diabetes
  2. Shortened life expectancy6
  3. Weakened immunity
  4. Increased risk of accidents and injuries
  5. Poor balance
  6. Lower sex drive7

However, it’s no secret that as a nation, lots of us simply don’t get enough sleep. Many suffer from certain conditions, such as insomnia.

How can sleep affect work?

Clearly, on the other hand, getting enough sleep can be beneficial when it comes to the workplace. Getting enough sleep is important for mental and physical health, mood and energy levels, as well as for supporting every bodily system.

Just some of the benefits include:

  • Helps you maintain a healthy weight
  • Improves attention and concentration
  • Keeps your heart healthy
  • Boosts immune system
  • Looks after emotional wellbeing
  • Reduces stress levels
  • Helps maintain good relationships8

Clearly, with work being such a big part of life, the benefits of a good night’s sleep will be felt in the workplace and beyond.

Are you taking work home with you?

A key cause of sleep deprivation and poor quality sleep is the inability to switch off, and taking work home with you at the end of the day. This can lead to a vicious cycle of feeling sleep deprived because of work, then having your work performance negatively impacted due to a lack of sleep.

Due to the impact of the pandemic, working from home is now the norm for many. This can make it even harder to switch off at the end of the day, but here are some tips that can help:

  1. Practice breathing techniques or mindfulness meditation
  2. Vent to friends or family
  3. Exercise more regularly to improve mental health
  4. Distract yourself e.g. watch TV or go for a walk
  5. Prioritise sleep over other commitments, such as socialising, where possible
  6. Read a book9

How to get a good night's sleep

Looking to get a good night’s sleep and improve your performance at work? Remember, it’s not always about the time spent asleep, but sleep quality as well. This is about how restorative and restful your sleep is, essentially how well you’re sleeping, not just the time spent in bed10. For example, if you wake up multiple times throughout the night, this can negatively impact sleep quality.

Here are some tips to help you sleep better:

  1. Block out all light and noise
  2. Lower the temperature
  3. Increase light exposure during the day
  4. Set a sleep schedule so you wake and rise at consistent times
  5. Avoid caffeine after 3pm
  6. Reduce alcohol intake
  7. Don’t eat a big meal just before bed
  8. Don’t do a vigorous workout too close to bedtime
  9. Take a hot bath or shower
  10. Play calming music
  11. Promote a healthy sleep environment e.g. declutter, get clean and comfortable bedding
  12. Reduce liquid intake before bed

There are many reasons you may not be sleeping well, but if it’s impacting your performance at work, make an effort to improve it. If the problem persists, you may need sleep therapy, or other ways to manage your stress levels.

Tired of feeling tired?

Work can make getting a good night’s sleep more difficult, as well as negatively impact performance while you’re there, adding to stress levels. However, sleep is as important for mental and physical health as good nutrition. So, it’s time you make it a priority, and make yourself a priority in turn. Be realistic with yourself, it can take time to make good habits when it comes to sleep, but small changes can add up and have a positive impact. Every change you make is a step in the right direction!

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