Sleep and Workplace Productivity

It’s 2:00 on Monday, and your eyelids start to feel heavy. Staring at your computer screen, you start to wonder if you will ever finish this report. Hours later, still sleepy, you haven’t made any progress. Sound familiar? If so, you aren’t alone. In a 2008 poll, 32% of respondents stated that they only got a few nights of good sleep per month. This lack of good sleep can lead to poor workplace productivity. This week, I will summarize an article that examined how sleep can affect job performance and safety.

In this study, 4,188 employees from four US based companies were surveyed about their sleep and workplace behaviors. They were classified into one of four different sleep groups: those who met criteria for Insomnia, Insufficient Sleep Syndrome (failure to get enough sleep at night), at risk for Insomnia, and good sleepers. About 10% of respondents were placed into the Insomnia group, 6% in Insufficient Sleep Syndrome, 40% in at risk, and 45% in the good sleep group.

Overall, those in the Insomnia and Insufficient Sleep Syndrome (ISS) groups had significantly more productivity loss compared to the two other groups. Further, those who were at risk for insomnia had more productivity loss than those who attained good sleep. When looking more into why this productivity loss occurred, they were able to identify some of the consequences of poor sleep that led to this. These included decreases in attention, decision making, memory, motivation, communication, and interpersonal functioning.

There were also some troubling findings regarding workplace safety. Almost 60% of those in the ISS group reported unintentionally falling asleep at work (putting themselves at risk to hurt themselves or others), and 40% nodding off while driving to or from work. These numbers were even higher than those in the Insomnia group (a puzzling finding requiring further investigation). This is very important to consider. You do not need Insomnia to have impaired safety; insufficient sleep is enough to lead to injury.

These are important findings for both employees and employers. For employees, consequences of poor sleep may ultimately lead to getting fired at your work. Falling asleep, low productivity, poor performance, and poor communication at work is not an ideal employee for many corporations.

For the employer, this productivity has economic consequences. When looking at the economic costs (due to lack of productivity), each participant with Insomnia cost their company approximately $3,156 per year. Each participant in the ISS group cost their employer $2,796 per year, and $1,660 per year for those at risk. When calculating the total effects of sleep disturbances on work performance, these companies lost about $54 million annually! These are pretty staggering numbers, and should hopefully illustrate just how important good sleep can be.

Rosekind, M. R., Gregory, K. B., Mallis, M. M., Brandt, S. L., Seal, B., & Lerner, D. (2010). The cost of poor sleep: workplace productivity loss and associated costs. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 52(1), 91-98.

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