Sleep - the natural tonic to enhanced work performance
Author: Paula R. Pienaar

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By Paula R. Pienaar, Sleep Scientist from SSISA Sleep Science in collaboration with MySleep

We all have days where we go to work feeling tired, or reach our productivity threshold earlier than we would wish. We watch the clock ticking away and feel as though the day will never end. A suboptimal sleep pattern which includes sleeping for too long or too short; waking up frequently during the night; or simply having an inconsistent sleep routine may be to blame (provided that you have no underlying chronic medical condition).

In fact, various studies have shown that

  • 30% of the general population complain of occasional sleep disruption
  • 10% have symptoms of daytime functional impairment and chronic insomnia
  • 16% of working adults do work just before bed and have frequent sleep difficulties or struggle to function optimally during the day due to sleep-related symptoms
  • 23% report that their typical weekday routine prevented them from getting enough sleep

Moreover, sleep deprivation may increase the risk of mortality by 13% and is associated with the loss of 1.2 million working days a year, according to a study by RAND (“Research and Development”) corporation.

There is good news though: researchers at the University of Chicago reported that working adults getting 7 or 8 hours of sleep per night had a lower risk for chronic disease, were absent less, and were more productive at work than other employees, even when taking into account demographic differences and factors such as job type and work shift. So, what exactly happens to our work performance when we have a poor sleep profile? Below are four ways with which poor sleep affects work performance:

  1. Makes you more likely to clock in on sick days

Lack of sleep has shown to suppress our immune system, making it easier for us to get sick and more difficult to recover from illness. Longer term consequences of sleep disturbances (duration and/or quality) are related to many chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, overweight and obesity, chronic stress and psychological problems.

  1. Creates that ‘walking zombie effect’ – feeling disconnected and unable to perform optimally

You may be getting enough time in bed, but often what is perceived as adequate sleep duration, may in fact be marred by frequent awakenings and therefore lead to poor sleep quality. This ultimately prevents your body from the gaining the benefits of a good night’s rest. Poor sleep quality reduces concentration, decision making ability, and lowers one’s ability to solve problems – all factors that make us more productive and effective at work.

  1. Impacts the company’s financial bottom line

In a US survey addressing sleep health in employees, those with difficulty sleeping “often” or “always” were more likely to have additional health care costs of $3600 to $5200 per person per year more than those who “never” have sleep problems. Alarmingly, these costs increased over time if sleep became worse. Factors contributing to the economics of an organization include:

  • Lost productivity: the less sleep you get, the longer it takes for you to get tasks done. Even the accuracy and speed of visual computer searches have been shown to suffer in individuals sleeping less than 6 hours a night. In an Australian workplace study, researchers found that when employees were asked about daytime sleepiness at work, 29% reported on making errors at work due to sleepiness or sleep problems.
  • Work accidents: you are more prone to accidents and/or injuries in the workplace when you are tired – research shows that poor sleep quality is associated with costly workplace accidents and errors in various occupations.
  1. Affects work relationships

Limiting your sleep for just a week, is enough to make you feel more stressed, angry, sad, and mentally exhausted. Poor sleep as a result of suboptimal duration, quality and consistency impair the emotional regulation needed for healthy interactions amongst co-workers in such a way that it:

  • Decreases the ability to handle stress
  • Lowers attention-span which may lead to poor decisions and tension between co-workers
  • Increases grumpiness and makes one more short tempered
  • Lowers the ability to relate to others

Solutions to combat sleepiness and fatigue in the workplace

Increased work demands create a cycle resulting in extended business hours - people are less productive at work because they're tired, thus taking their work home, only to have it interfere with their sleep. Companies therefore play a vital role in providing supportive options to manage fatigue and sleep health. For example, consideration can be given to whether company policies promote a more flexible lifestyle that allows for adequate, consistent sleep. Travel arrangements could be flexible to minimize sleep disruption. Employers and other organizations may wish to incorporate sleep education into their overall health and wellness strategy and institute sleep-friendly corporate policies discouraging late night text-messaging, WhatsApp groups, and emails.

If you feel that your daytime functioning has been affected by poor sleep duration or quality, it is recommended to visit your general practitioner whom can refer and guide you to sleep health professionals for further investigation.

These articles might also be of interest to you:

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2. How poor sleep can make you gain weight 581
Author: Rob Henst    Date: 06 March 2018

3. The Magic Bullet for a New You 483
Author: Sports Science Institute of South Africa    Date: 28 February 2018

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Disclaimer: This information is for education purposes only and is intended to answer some of the frequently encountered questions about the meaning of ‘Sleep Apnea’.
If you have any questions regarding the information contained on this website please contact your physician.

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