May 08, 2023 3 min read
Many today equate losing sleep with having more time to be productive. But this is a common myth — and one that is easy to dispel with research.
Looking at the available evidence, sleep loss is more often than not linked to reduced productivity that can cost workers their livelihoods and companies millions. Yet, paradoxically, sleep loss is often a result of overwork. If we paid more attention to what experts tell us, we would treat sleep as the productivity booster it is.
Sleep is as essential for our health and survival, just like breathing and eating. Sleep allows the body to rest and recover, and stave off disease. During sleep, the brain forms pathways and processes old information. Yet, many see sleep as optional and compromise sleep to stay productive. But this can and often does backfire.
According to a study of more than 4,000 U.S. workers, those who slept less had worse outcomes in terms of productivity, performance, and safety . The same study found sleep-related productivity loss to cost companies nearly $2,000 per employee annually. Countless other studies show that getting enough, good-quality sleep is fundamental for performance and alertness in the workplace [2,3].
And it’s easy to understand why that’s so:
And it’s not just not getting enough hours of sleep that is the issue — countless untreated sleep disorders can have the same impact.
Commissioned by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, Frost & Sullivan to conduct a comprehensive analysis of the economic impact of sleep apnea, a prevalent sleep disorder . What they found was that undiagnosed sleep apnea cost the U.S. $149.6 billion in 2015. Most of this was due to lost productivity and absenteeism. Other reasons were medical complications and workplace accidents.
Many things can interfere with your sleep and, through this, with your productivity. Overwork, for example, can cause you to lose out on sleep and result in reduced productivity down the line. Unhealthy sleep habits can be just as damaging. Sleep disorders like insomnia, sleep apnea, and restless leg syndrome are all major productivity killers as well.
But according to a study that examined whether people with sleep problems had reduced productivity compared to controls, some sleep problems are worse than others . Insomnia had the worst impact on productivity, according to this research. Those with moderate to severe insomnia had 107% more productivity loss compared to those without this sleep problem. Those with mild insomnia had 58% more productivity loss and those who snore up to 34% productivity loss compared to controls.
And as far as workers who compromise sleep to stay productive are concerned, this study found they experienced 19-29% productivity loss compared to folks who got 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night.
If you’ve noticed productivity suffer lately, it could be because you’re not giving sleep the attention it needs. As explained, when your sleep suffers, so does your performance. To break this vicious cycle, prioritize your sleep by doing the following:
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