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The Impact of Sleep

 The Impact of Sleep on Work

Sleeping Lion


I don’t know about you, but I have a very strange relationship with sleep.  First thing in the morning, sleep is my best friend and my bed… well, my bed is literally the most comfortable place in the entire world.  Fast-forward to the evening and sleep becomes elusive; morphing into my greatest nemesis.  Aided and abetted, of course, by a bed that has transmogrified into an uncomfortable heap of cold, lumpy nettles.


That’s just fine Liz, but what’s this got to do with work?


The Impacts of Sleep Deprivation


Sleep deprivation has a significant impact on our cognitive functioning… functioning that’s critical for effective working.  Lack of sleep reduces the following abilities are by up to 50%:


  • Attention
  • Vigilance
  • Decision Making capabilities
  • Alertness


Lack of sleep also also impacts our memory, our reasoning ability and communication skills.  We make worse decisions and more mistakes.  All this, as well as negatively affecting our physical and mental health.


So not that good then!  But surely it can’t be that bad, can it?  I mean, not catastrophically bad?  Well actually, it’s funny you just mentioned that…


Workplace Accidents


Remember the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill – the one where tens of billions of gallons of oil hemorrhaged into the Alaskan Sea?  The accident was partially attributed to fatigue.  While the captain slept off his hard night of partying, the third mate steered the ship.  He’d slept only 6 hours in the previous 48.  Meanwhile, the second mate had worked without break for the past 30 hours.


Remember the Challenger explosion of 1986?  The decision whether to forgo the mission based on the information provided about the O-rings was made by individuals who’d worked shifts in excess of 20 hours.  Regrettably, history shows that their judgement was flawed – the O-rings failed and the shuttle was obliterated.


Okay, so you might not be commandeering an oil tanker or sending rockets into space, but you are employed to do a job… and to do it well.  So make sure that lack of sleep doesn’t catastrophically undermine all your hard work and efforts.


How To Stop Sleep impacting your Working Life


  • Avoid working on your days off – get some rest!
  • Try to contain your working day so that you have time to rest and recuperate between shifts.  Don’t work such long hours that you’re simply going home to sleep before returning to the office!
  • Similarly, don’t let your work cross over to your home-life.  If you have a Blackberry, turn it off when you’re at home.
  • Work on improving your sleep hygiene – develop a healthy routine, relax before retiring to bed, banish all electrical equipment from the bedroom and avoid alcohol as a relaxant.


We work in a culture which often interprets high performance and hard work by how many hours we spend in the workplace.  If you’re caught up in that cycle, it’s time for you to get out.  The fact is that lack of sleep will not only impede your effectiveness, but it’ll damage your health at the same time.


Do yourself a favour… improve your sleep and give yourself the best platform to be the most effective, productive and high-performing worker that you can.


Find out more:


Sleep Deprivation at the Workplace

Sleep Deprivation: Effects on Safety, Health and the Quality of Life

Exxon Valdez Oil Spill


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