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Is lack of sleep affecting your work?

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Health and work

We spend a third of our lives asleep. Most people know that a good night’s sleep is the best way to recover after a hard day.

But sleep is not just critical to recovery, it essential for maintaining cognitive skills such as communicating well, remembering key information and being creative and flexible in thought.

There is also a strong relationship between sleep and physical and mental health and not getting enough sleep has a profound impact on our ability to function.  If it develops into a pattern, the cumulative impact is significant.

The impact of lack of sleep

Links between a lack of sleep and high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes are emerging. It also makes us more vulnerable to infection and raises the risk of accident and injury.

There are many reasons why you might get less sleep than the recommended 7 - 9 hours a night.  Work-related stress, working anti-social hours, illness and injury, getting older, money worries and personal loss are just a few of the issues that can keep us awake at night.

But how do you know if lack of sleep is affecting you at work?

Common signs include a general deterioration in your performance, poor concentration or poor memory, as well as being in a poor mood and greater risk taking.

What you can do about it?

There are steps you can take if you feel you’re showing signs of any of the above and think it may be down to not sleeping enough. This is where “sleep hygiene” comes in.

Don’t be confused by the phrase ‘sleep hygiene’, it’s not about how clean your bedding is!

Rather, sleep hygiene is about creating the ideal conditions for a good night’s sleep.

Everyone’s different, but good examples include sticking to regular bed times and making an effort to relax as the time for sleep approaches as well as avoiding heavy meals, caffeine and alcohol late at night.

Think about your use of technology too - this isn’t just a late night distraction (or the cause of stress if you’re always checking work emails).  Blue light from computer screens, tablets, smartphones, LED lighting and some TVs can keep you awake by suppressing the sleep-inducing hormone ‘melatonin’.

If sleep is still difficult there’s a range of help available. Talk to a pharmacist for instance or visit NHS Choices or One You for further information.

The impact on businesses

Businesses are increasingly aware of the impact of sleep deprivation on the health and wellbeing of their employees, and the knock-on implications for productivity. They’ve asked for information, evidence-based advice and steps they can take to support sleep and recovery in the workplace.

We’ve worked with Business in the Community to produce a range of toolkits for employers, co-produced with business.

So far we’ve covered topics including mental health and musculoskeletal problems which are the major causes of work related sickness, and sleep is the latest one.

Central to the sleep toolkit is the recommendation that businesses create an understanding environment, where employees can be open with their managers about any sleep-related issues that are hampering them at work.

That way line managers and employees can identify the risks to health and wellbeing in your workplace together and gather the right information to help you put plans in place to manage risks. This can be especially important when changes to your work schedule or significant changes like organisational restructuring are planned.

The new sleep toolkit takes businesses through this process, with information on the importance of sleep, the business case for good sleep and actions which address the causes of sleep deprivation in employees.

Although we all make our own decisions at night when to lie down and go to sleep, there are lots of ways employers can support us all as individuals to get a better night’s sleep, and ultimately help us all to be healthier and achieve our potential in the workplace.

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  1. Comment by Count Iblis posted on

    While the suggestions made here will help to some degree, it doesn't really tackle the fundamental cause of the problem. Sleep problems are extremely common in Western societies, so much so that occasional insomnia a few times per month is considered normal and the few who never experience insomnia at all, are considered to be exceptional cases.

    However, recent studies on indigenous populations have shown that the picture we have about sleep and sleep problems is totally wrong. We can read here:

    "Though the San, Tsimane, and Hadza often average less than seven hours of sleep, they seem to be getting enough sleep. They seldom nap, and they don’t have trouble dozing off. The San and Tsimane languages have no word for insomnia, and when researchers tried to explain it to them, “they still don’t seem to quite understand,” Siegel says."

    While more research needs to be done, it seems to me that the core of the problem is simply the generally unhealthy lifestyle. Sitting at a desk for hours instead of being physically active for hours, eating a Western diet that even in its healthier variants doesn't come close to the sort of diet these indigenous populations are eating. See e.g. here:

    "Heart attacks and strokes are almost unknown amongst the Tsimané thanks to a high carbohydrate, low protein diet and active lifestyle, say researchers"

    "The study published in the Lancet medical journal and being presented at the American College of Cardiology conference shows that an 80-year-old Tsimané man has the vascular age of an American in his mid-50s."

    "...“Most of the Tsimané are able to live their entire life without developing any coronary atherosclerosis. This has never been seen in any prior research..."

    This all suggests that we've strayed so far away from the optimal way of operating our bodies that we are stuck in some suboptimal way state that's close to some local optimum that can be reached by e.g. napping at work to improve sleep at night as pointed out on this blog.

    It's a bit like taking a formula 1 car optimized for driving at 300 km/h and driving it at a speed of 50 km/h. It won't drive well at that speed, he car will tend to suddenly stop or suddenly speed up, but you can then tweak things and get to a way of using the controls to drive the car a bit smoother at 50 km/h.

    Clearly, we can make far more drastic improvements by fundamentally changing the way we work, exercise and eat. We should make better use of the 16 hours we're awake, there is plenty of room in there to do a few hours of exercise every day.

    By burning more than a thousand Kcal more, the diet like the Tsiname people are eating is going to become feasible (getting protein from vegetable sources requires eating quite a lot of food). And there is plenty of time to get the 8 hour of work done. Also with this huge amount of physical activity, sleeping well won't be a problem.

    7 hours of sleep or even less is not going to lead to excessive sleepiness during daytime. Since I started to stick to this lifestyle, I have experienced this myself. I think what is going on here is that with eating 4000 Kcal a day worth of healthy foods, due to burning 1500 Kcal more per day, my body is getting way more vitamins and minerals.

    In practice, we would need new laws that mandate that there be enough room for exercise breaks. If the human body needs at least one or two hours of intensive physical exercise then the law should mandate that. There is no good reason why there cannot be long exercise breaks at work.

  2. Comment by TAPAS GOSWAMI posted on

    Very helpful, authoritative, trustworthy, scientific, up-to-date information in simple, lucid language.

  3. Comment by Nigel Dupree posted on

    The 20% lost productivity associated with fatigue exhibited in those suffering a degree of work-stress / presenteeism exacerbated by Asthenopia, now recognised as a Global Pandemic (WHO ICD-10) linked to sub-optimally calibrated or optimised Display Screen Equipment interface ergonomics, and dismissed as a 'temporary visual anomaly' common known as Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS) or Screen Fatigue, is far from temporary when affecting the majority of operators on-screen longer than an hour a day.

    Having seen the new 2012 EU MSD Directive fail to launch perhaps the BSI ISO 45001, soon to be published, underpinned by an ethos of Work Exposure Limits (WEL) in terms of a management standard will, at long last, provide a wake-up call to prompt and promote the 90% of employers who have, in affect, given up on the current ineffective 1993 UK DSE Regulations to act ?

  4. Comment by Lisa posted on

    Interesting article and I ticked off all the symptoms and signs of sleep deprivation. The cause of this was not even hinted at in the paper.... returning to work when you have a 10 month old baby!! I'd wager sleep deprivation is very high amongst all parents of small children....

  5. Comment by Quitsnoring posted on

    I was really looking for such a nice blog to share my thoughts about this topic. Lack of sleep is really bad for your health physically as well as mentally. Minimum 8 hours sleep is recommended by doctors as well for your physical growth and fitness. I really liked the information you have shared and I am sure many people will get benefit from this post.
    Visit for more information if anyone struggling with snoring or sleep apnea.