Part 2 – Sleep and Work
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control indicates that sleeping less than seven hours per night is associated with increased risk for diabetes, stroke, frequent mental distress, and all-cause mortality. It also can contribute to heart disease, and increases a person’s likelihood to catch a cold and/or develop an infection. Obviously, all of these health issues affect punctuality, absenteeism, and morale. Excessive absences result in decreased productivity and can have a major effect on company finances.
These are some of the obvious ways sleep deprivation affects career success. But there are other ways in which sleep deprivation has a dramatic direct effect on success. Insufficient sleep is a major cause of workplace accidents resulting in injuries and lawsuits. Lack of sleep also impairs judgment. And sleep deprivation is tied to cognitive impairment and memory problems. In other words, the brain just does not work well –as effectively or efficiently – when deprived of sleep.
You’ve heard of needing one’s beauty sleep. Well, in truth, what business people really need is their ‘brainy sleep.’ For a person’s brain to function at optimal efficiency, clarity and speed, every person requires a certain amount of sleep daily. That amount varies per person, but not as much as one might think. The optimal amount of sleep for adults is between seven and nine hours of sleep. The ideal is seven and a half to eight hours for adults. Children require much more sleep, and even teenagers need more than nine hours. But anyone getting less than seven hours per night for many consecutive nights is likely to be functionally impaired.
Lack of Sleep Causes Accidents
Don’t take a writer’s word for it. These events speak for themselves. Investigators ruled that sleep deprivation was a significant factor in the 1979 nuclear accident at Three Mile Island. Sleep deprivation also played a part in the 1986 nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl. Likewise, investigations of the grounding of the Exxon Valdez oil tanker as well as the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger concluded that sleep deprivation played a critical role in those accidents. In all of those cases, the people in charge of operations and required to make critical decisions were extremely sleep deprived. While the Challenger disaster put the multi-billion dollar shuttle program in peril, the Exxon Valdez oil spill resulted in incalculable ecological, environmental, and economic damage.
If those major disasters aren’t sufficiently convincing as to the critical role sleep plays in work success, consider the growing evidence of the link between lack of sleep and medical errors in hospitals. According to the Institutes of Medicine, over one million injuries and between 50,000 and 100,000 deaths each year result from preventable medical errors in the U.S. alone, and many are believed to be the result of sleep deprivation. While it’s difficult to know exactly how much of a role sleep deprivation plays in medical errors, studies do indicate a significant impact. For example, a 2004 study by Dr. Charles Czeisler of the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School found that hospitals could reduce the number of medical errors by as much as 36% by limiting an individual doctor’s work shifts to 16 hours and reducing the total work schedule to no more than 80 hours per week.
For those who think sleep deprivation issues apply only to doctors, pilots, captains and astronauts, here is another way lack of sleep affects the average person. Sleep loss has safety consequences for people who drive on the nation’s highways as well. A National Sleep Foundation survey showed that 60% of the 220 million adult drivers in 2014—about 132 million people —say they have driven a vehicle while feeling drowsy in the past year, and more than one-third (75 million people) have actually fallen asleep at the wheel. Signs of sleep deprivation in driving include yawning or blinking frequently, difficulty remembering the past few miles driven, missing your exit, drifting from your lane and hitting a rumble strip on the side of the road.
Unfortunately, many of these situations end in tragedy. The Institute of Medicine estimates that drowsy driving is responsible for 20% of all motor vehicle crashes. That would mean that drowsy driving causes approximately 1 million crashes, 500,000 injuries, and 8,000 fatalities each year in the U.S.
Sleep Deprivation Affects Mental Performance
But accidents are not the only way that lack of sleep affects work safety. As early as the 1930s, there has been scientific evidence of a link between sleep and cognitive performance. Nathaniel Kleitman, a pioneer in the field of sleep medicine, discovered a daily pattern in the speed and accuracy of cognitive performance. He showed that, even in well-rested individuals, there was a decrease in the level of individual performance that occurred in the early morning and again late at night. Thus, even when people get the amount of sleep needed, they still have normal fluctuations in their ability to function.
In addition to these normal fluctuations, not getting enough sleep—whether for just one night or over the course of weeks to months—has a significant effect on a person’s ability to function. Sleep deprivation negatively impacts mood, focus, and higher-level cognitive functions. On a daily basis, lack of sleep causes general fatigue, lack of motivation, and even nodding off. In fact, after a period of sleep deprivation, there are noticeable changes in brain activity, as seen on EEGs, causing a lower level of alertness. Any period of continual wakefulness beyond the typical 16 hours or so will generally lead to those measurable changes. How much of a change? Reducing nighttime sleep by as little as 1.5 hours for just one night can reduce daytime alertness by up to 32%.
However, reduced alertness is not the only problem affecting work when sleep deprived. Other changes in brain activity that accompany extended lack of sleep include loss of concentration, lack of working memory, impaired mathematical capacity, and limited logical reasoning. And sleep deprivation affects different areas of the brain differently. The region of the brain known as the prefrontal cortex (PFC) — responsible for many higher-level cognitive functions — is particularly vulnerable to a lack of sleep. People who are sleep deprived quickly begin to show deficits in many tasks that require logical reasoning or complex thought. That means anyone with a job in finance, budgeting, programming, engineering, architecture, pharmaceuticals, accounting, or any other field that involves calculations cannot afford to be sleep deprived any day at work.
Sleep deprivation negatively affects work performance—productivity and quality—and working relationships. Without adequate sleep, employees have more difficulty concentrating, learning, and communicating. Memory lapses increase. Problem-solving abilities decline. Sleep-deprived employees can be moody and less tolerant of co-workers’ differing opinions, making them more prone to reactionary outbursts and other relationship-destroying behaviors. Work relationship problems impact the entire organization. They contribute to inefficiency and job dissatisfaction.
Professionals who want to thrive at work should consider “sleeping their way to the top”. Eight hours of sleep daily can help individuals to think clearly, remember tasks, compute accurately and expand their knowledge base more easily. People who invest in getting enough sleep on a daily basis will get along with others better and be better able to cultivate relationships. Sleep is essential to success. Give that some thought, and then sleep on it.
Quote of the Week
“Think in the morning. Act in the noon. Eat in the evening. Sleep in the night.” William Blake
© 2016, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.