Sleep And Productivity – Rest More, Work Better

Last updated: May 6, 2019

Sleep and our daily performance are closely related. If we don’t get enough sleep, we react and move slower and have a hard time remembering facts and coming up with new ideas. Many tired people take their work home because they were not productive enough to do it in the office – but this only results in more sleepless nights and more unproductive days.

Although it may sound like a good ‘quick fix’ to cut back on sleep in order to finish work, this kind of behavior is just pushing you into long-term sleep problems. Respecting your sleep time will give you energy, good mood, optimism and strength to face all of your daily challenges appropriately.

Sleep duration, quality, and sleep/wake patterns are equally important when it comes to your health and productivity.

How a good night’s rest improves your productivity

Being a highly productive and creative worker/student is a great start for a successful career. Good sleep also makes you more pleasant as a person, improving your personal life through relationships with family and friends. After plenty of quality sleep your mind is clear of sleep-inducing substances, your emotions are stable, you can think clearly, focus and make good decisions.

This is how having enough sleep has a direct impact on your work:

  • Focus. You can stay focused on your task for a longer time without your mind wandering. Also, if you get interrupted while working you’ll be able to quickly regain your focus.
  • Decision-making. A well-rested person can quickly connect ideas, see causes and consequences clearly and make good decisions. Some studies warn against making important decisions when you are sleep-deprived.
  • Memory. Your memory is better when you are rested – this is because the brain organized and ‘combed through’ recent memories in your sleep, strengthening important ones and weakening the unimportant ones. With poor sleep memory rapidly deteriorates, along with other cognitive abilities.
  • No mistakes. Tired people make more mistakes. This is probably due to being absent-minded, slow-thinking and forgetful. When you sleep well you are less likely to make errors at and outside of work.
  • Optimism. Sleep gives us a more positive outlook on the situations we encounter. An optimistic person is less likely to procrastinate (an action which frequently ends in staying up late) and more likely to find motivation and joy in their work.
  • Creativity. Good sleep improves creativity. Sometimes it’s a creative idea at a meeting that can get you a promotion.
  • Good health. Poor sleep leads to poorer mental and physical health. Those who sleep for a short time are more depressed and more likely to suffer from a cold or other common illnesses. Good health is one of the basics of productivity.

Risks and consequences of insufficient sleep

A lack of sleep affects our health and well-being negatively. It is linked with and, as research suggests; could lead to diseases like cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease, obesity, and even sleep disturbances like insomnia.

Poor work productivity is certainly one of the negative effects of sleep deprivation along with bad mood, poor attention, and impaired reaction.

However, not all problems are linked to the individuals themselves. A study conducted by RAND Corporation (Europe) has shown that the US has the highest economic losses due to insufficient sleep (and thus productivity loss) being as high as $411 billion per year, and 1.23 million working days lost (poor sleepers are likely to get sick and take a leave).

This important finding tells both employers and employees that sleep should be paid attention to in order to keep the company’s growth going up.

Why do I feel tired and unproductive after 8 hours of sleep?

Chances are you’re getting non-restorative sleep, which means poor quality of sleep. Sleeping enough is as important as the quality of sleep.

Non-restorative sleep usually occurs if something prevents a person from reaching deep sleep (restorative stage of sleep). It could be an untreated sleep disorder, nightcap, excessive stress, or too hot or loud sleep environment.

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a disorder which usually affects men, and it is a disorder in which a person stops breathing many times a night, followed by waking up and changing position. For this reason, an OSA patient spends most of the night in light sleep, rarely getting to reach the deep stage.

Another sleep disruptor is known to be caffeine – even if taken 6 hours prior to bedtime it will disrupt our sleep and impair its quality.

Sleep pattern regularity and productivity

A study from 2017, published in the journalScientific Reports, was conducted on 61 students over the course of one month. Each day they kept sleep diaries and their sleep regularity was observed.

Scientists found that having an irregular sleep pattern is related to delayed circadian rhythms (biological clocks) and lower academic achievements. A delayed circadian rhythm means that one’s biological clock is not in tune with the natural day/night time – so they get sleepy long past ideal sleeping time and they need to wake up later than the rest of people.

This inevitably leads to the so-called social jet lag, a condition in which a person can’t keep up with the timing of daily tasks and schedules of the rest of society. Social jet lag and productivity rarely go together because a person with a delayed circadian rhythm is usually sleep deprived (for example, due to morning lectures or work).

First, they can’t get focused on their morning tasks, and then, later in the day, they are too weary for other things.

Why is routine important in sleep?

Our body relies on some external factors that tell it which part of the day it is. Light is the most important source of information for our body – certain cells in our eyes pick up light and inform the brain when it’s time for action. When we expose ourselves to artificial light at night, we send our body the signal that it’s daytime.

The body also learns our habits and tunes the circadian rhythm according to them. If you wake up every day at the same time and always have the same bedtime routine and sleep time, your brain will know well when to plan each action.

This way, your sleep is of good quality because you’ll get plenty of REM and deep sleep. Irregular sleep patterns confuse the body rhythm and takes its toll on your hormone production, neurotransmitters, brain health, and productivity.

So no wonder the study showed regular sleepers as better achieving – they had a clear mind and were better at deciding and planning their time. Plenty of sleep makes a learner better.

How to have more productive sleep

If you want to increase your productivity then you need productive sleep. This mainly means sticking to good sleep habits and respecting your sleep. Once you understand how important it is to sleep well, you’ll be more likely to implement the following:

  • Make a bedtime routine and stick to it. This way you teach your body to follow a certain rhythm.
  • Don’t count on makeup sleep, because it is not possible to regain all of your lost sleep. Instead keep your sleep schedule as regular as possible, even after short sleep loss.
  • Ditch all technology and LED lights a couple of hours prior to sleep time. Artificial lights stop your melatonin production – that’s your sleepiness hormone, and you can easily find it’s difficult to fall asleep. Refrain even from quickly checking your social media.
  • Listen to your body when it comes to hours of sleep – if you find out you work well and feel energized after, say, 6 or 9 hours, make sure to allow yourself this time for sleeping every night.
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine completely in the evening. They impair sleep quality.
  • In case of extreme daytime sleepiness, try having a coffee nap in the early afternoon. Drink a cup of coffee and doze off for 15 minutes. When you wake up, you should feel extra energized. If you don’t like coffee you can try a caffeine pill or just a regular power nap.

The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. Read our full medical disclaimer.

Additional resources

  1. 7 Strategies to Reduce Fatigue Risk in Resident Work Schedules. Resident Duty Hours: Enhancing Sleep, Supervision, and Safety (2009) Chapter: Front Matter. The National Academies Press. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK214949/ Accessed April 10, 2019.
  2. Lack of Sleep is Affecting Americans, Finds the National Sleep Foundation. 2014. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/press-release/lack-sleep-affecting-americans-finds-national-sleep-foundation Accessed April 10, 2019.
  3. Why sleep matters — the economic costs of insufficient sleep. RAND. https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR1791.html  Accessed April 10, 2019.
  4. A Good Night’s Sleep Helps With Job Performance. The National Sleep Foundation. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/excessive-sleepiness/performance/good-nights-sleep-helps-job-performance Accessed April 10, 2019.