The Connection Between Sleep And Productivity

It is impossible to function effectively without being fully rested, yet an increasing number of Australians are skimping on sleep in a bid to meet life’s demands.  

Experts recommend seven to nine hours of quality sleep per night, but research from the University of Adelaide suggests up to 45% of us regularly fall short of this figure.

This phenomenon is having a profound impact on individual health and organisational productivity levels. In 2011, Deloitte’s Re-awakening Australia study found that sleep disorders cost Australian businesses $3.1 billion per annum through absenteeism and early workforce withdrawal.

So, how does sleep effect health and what are the effects of insufficient sleep?

  • Impaired Concentration: Our minds may be quiet while we sleep, but that doesn’t mean our brains aren’t hard at work. Experts at Harvard have noted the essential role sleep plays in concentration, learning and memory. Sleep deprived individuals struggle to remember and make use of factual and practical information. They are less able to make decisions and are more irritable at work.

  • Illness: In terms of maintaining physical health, sleep is as important as regular exercise and nutrition. Studies show that long-term sleep deprivation heightens the risk of heart disease, cancer and diabetes. It also weakens the immune system, making it more difficult to avoid and recover from illness.

  • Mental Health Problems: Disordered sleeping patterns can cause, exacerbate or be the result of mental health conditions. While the relationship between sleep and psychological wellbeing is complex, research suggests up to 90% of adults with depression and 50% of anxiety sufferers have issues sleeping.

  • Weight Gain: Another notable consequence of restricted sleep is its connection with obesity. Prolonged sleep loss damages the metabolism and impairs our ability to regulate appetite. A recent study conducted at The University of Chicago found that sleep deprivation also promotes hunger and encourages bad food choices.

Fortunately for employers, the effects of sleep mismanagement are not totally outside of their control. Organisations can increase sleep related productivity in the following ways:

  • Education: While most people are aware of the eight hours a night target, many don’t realise the true value of sleep. Employers can help staff rest better by running sleep workshops which promote the development of positive bedtime routines.

  • Flexible Work Hours: There’s more to the labels “night owl and “morning person” than perception. Where possible, employers should consider offering staff flexible work schedules which allow them to work during their most productive hours.

  • Napping at Work: Recognising the impact sleep has on performance, companies like Google and Uber are encouraging their staff to add workplace naps to their to-do lists. A well-managed onsite nap room can help employees recharge throughout the day.

  • Change the “Always On” Culture: Advances in technology mean work is no longer confined to the office. This phenomenon has had a profound impact on people’s ability to switch off and, in many cases, sleep. Managers should use delay delivery emails to ensure staff are not bombarded with messages at times of rest.

Poor sleeping habits mean reduced productivity. Reduced productivity means more hours at work are needed for employees to meet their goals.

This routine is detrimental to personal and professional development. It is up to the employer to break this cycle by recognising that sleep is not a luxury, but an essential component of human wellbeing.