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Sleep and Work – Why We Need a Balance

Tired woman at work

Keep arriving at work way too tired? Cutting back on sleep takes its toll on your mental and physical health and we all know that, but a lot of people sacrifice sleep for their careers – which in reality seems to be counterproductive. It’s not only hurting your company, but it’s also hurting your reputation as an employee (and increases your chances of getting fired). 

Here’s why you should really think about tidying up your sleep schedule.

Ways to reduce fatigue at work

  • Ginseng – This well-known nootropic enhances cognitive function and boosts your brain’s abilities. It’s been used as a medicinal herb for thousands of years due to its mental energy-boosting properties.
  • Green tea – This quick-acting stimulant has been used daily by millions of people throughout history for its ability to fight fatigue. While some of the cognitive enhancements come from caffeine, most of the benefits come from l-theanine. The supplement has been shown to improve brain function, boost energy, and boost anti-oxidants.
  • Standing desk – If you want to reduce your fatigue and stay more alert at work then a standing desk is the only way to go. In addition to enhancing alertness, these desks also improve your posture and reduce the negative health effects of sitting down all day. There is literally no downside to buying a standing desk.

How you as an employee can benefit from being well-rested at work

Being energized at work can bring massive improvements in your career. If you’re having a hard time believing this take a look at this list:

  • You get more communicative and sociable. Connecting with people is invaluable in the business world. When you’re exhausted you want everyone to leave you alone, but when you’re rested you have more motivation to talk and help others which in turn can result in others helping you more easily or contacting you for new opportunities.
  • You’re less likely to burn out. Enough sleep restores your body and mind and gives you the energy to go through challenges. A fatigued person only accumulates the negative consequences of stress and will burn out quickly.
  • You’ll get noticed for outstanding performance. Submitting excellent papers, proposing new ideas, remembering important points and facts, being attentive, and connecting ideas – these are all traits of workers who others look up to. They also belong to well-rested individuals. Even if you are not a particularly creative or talkative person, you’ll still perform better than you used to when you were tired all the time.
  • You probably won’t get fired. Cutting back on sleep makes workers twice as likely to get fired due to poor performance and tardiness.

Napping at work – yay or nay?

If you can find a nice quiet place – go for it! You can increase your productivity at work if you take a short nap; it’s surely better to have that kind of rest than to try to fight through your energy slump. Perhaps you can try having a caffeine nap – which means to consume caffeine right before taking a nap. By the time you wake up (in 15 minutes or so), the caffeine will kick in. It’s crucial to have a shuteye as soon as you consume the caffeine because the more you wait, the more you are likely to feel its effects and not sleep at all. Once you wake up you’ll be refreshed by the nap and boosted with the caffeine.

Important to remember! Naps can make you feel better and help alleviate stress and lower blood pressure. However, they can’t really substitute a good night’s rest. Naps are best when you have them early in the day and when they are not longer than 20 minutes. 

How a company benefits from well-rested employees

A study published in the American Journal of Health Promotion advises business organizations to work on improving the sleep habits of their employees in order to increase productivity. So how can your business benefit from employees who sleep well?

  • Rested employees are usually not tired and can work more.

Those who sleep an average of eight hours cause the least loss in productivity. Employees who manage to get sufficient and adequate sleep at night have better focus, are quick to connect ideas, and are likely to make good decisions and fewer mistakes. All in all their productivity is high. 

Just as a reminder, eight hours of sleep is enough for most people, which means that the majority of those who sleep 6-7 hours will be fatigued. This doesn’t mean there aren’t people who thrive on 7 hours of sleep, but it does mean there’s very few of them. 

  • Rested employees are present more often.

Absenteeism and poor sleep typically come together. Those who don’t sleep enough are more likely to have health issues. Every year the US economy is at a loss of about 1.23 million working days because of insufficient sleep. It adds up to hundreds of billions of dollars of losses each year.

Economic losses due to insufficient sleep by the country. Source.

  • Well-rested people are more optimistic and more sociable.

Employees who sleep well often have positive outcomes and are much more likely to be highly motivated. These two traits are key in the fight against procrastination. These people are also much more friendly and communicative. Non-rested individuals don’t only feel less friendly but are also perceived as lonely and not approachable by other people. This means that an employee who regularly sleeps enough will make a better and more useful colleague and team member, a more dedicated worker, and a better mentor. 

  • Rested workers are more creative and have a better memory.

We all know it’s easier to connect ideas and come up with solutions when we have plenty of energy and a “fresh” brain. On top of that the brain works well with all the information – old and new, simple and complex. A sleepy worker probably won’t remember a piece of information and is definitely not likely to learn or memorize new skills or facts easily. Sleep is considered essential for learning and memory.

Why it’s dangerous to be sleep deprived at work

Workers who operate heavy machinery, manufacturing workers, and drivers (to name a few) work on highly-responsible positions where poor decision making, slow motor skills, or even falling asleep at work can be extremely dangerous for their own life as well as the lives of other workers or participants in traffic.

A lot of recent data warns that medical staff should improve their sleep time, especially surgery residents. According to Dr. Matthew Walker, residents who take 30-hour shifts are 460% more likely to make a diagnostic error in the intensive care unit as compared to their abilities during a 16-hour shift – this means they’ll treat a patient for the wrong thing. Surgeons who had six hours of sleep or less are 170% more likely to make a major error in surgery.

After years or decades of sleep deprivation, a person is at a higher risk of developing numerous illnesses and diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and dementia.

Who is the most sleep-deprived?

Most sleep-deprived workers are those who work in healthcare and shift workers. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), there are numerous professions across most industries in which almost half of the employees are sleep-deprived. The top five include:

  • Production (occupation: plant, reactor, and system operators) – 49.6% of workers sleep less than 7 hours per night
  • Food Preparation and Serving-related (occupation: supervisors) – 48.9%
  • Production (occupation: supervisors) – 48.9%
  • Protective Service (occupation: firefighting and prevention workers) – 45.8%
  • Construction and Extraction (occupation: extraction workers) – 45.3%

Others include positions like dispatchers, metal workers, nurses, science technicians, and engineers. In each of these over 40% of workers are sleep-deprived.

Additional resources

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Short Sleep Duration By Occupation Group. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/66/wr/mm6608a2.htm 
  2. Value-Based Sleep in the Workplace. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5020358/ 
  3. Why Sleep Matters—The Economic Costs of Insufficient Sleep. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5627640/
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