Sleep Deprivation and Workplace Performance
How does sleep deprivation result in poor workplace performance? There’s a scientific answer and a common-sense answer…
Feel free to skip this science lesson: sleep is a ubiquitous biological imperative, evolutionarily conserved across species. Sufficient sleep without circadian disruption is necessary to promote high levels of attention and cognitive performance during wakefulness. Of the 1.3kg of brain we house, the pre-frontal cortex is the most susceptible to sleep deprivation. The subsystems of working memory live here: phonological loop (temporarily store verbal and acoustic information, echo memory), visuospatial sketchpad (iconic memory), episodic buffer (integrate information from multiple sources) and central executive (controls them all). These executive functions allow for sustained attention (vigilance) and maximal neurocognitive performance.
Simply put: if you don’t sleep adequately, your performance drops. Specifically, your processing, creativity, decision making, adaptability and emotion control. In addition, physiological changes occur that predispose individuals to low mood and poor physical health too.
The most fascinating finding in a recent meta-analysis of dozens of publications is that partial sleep deprivation (<5h total sleep in a day) has a far greater negative effect on cognitive performance than short- and long-term sleep deprivation. Partial sleep deprivation is exactly what occurs with a newborn baby in the home.
Have you ever been so tired at work, that you made a small error?
Perhaps it was merely a typographical error. Well sleepiness was a known contributing factor to small workplace errors that resulted in the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster (1986), as well as the Chernobyl Nuclear accident (1986) and the Exxon Valdez oil spill (1989).
In 2017, an Australian study found that 1/3 of adults reported making errors at work due to sleepiness and 17% have fallen asleep on the job. The financial impact of insufficient sleep costs Australia $66.3 billion annually, in lost productivity, healthcare costs and wellbeing impact. Businesses directly lost $6.7 billion in one year, from employees underperforming on the job due to sleepiness.
Getting your newborn to sleep through the night as soon as possible will not only have positive effects on your mood and physical health. Your neurocognitive performance will soar.