How sleep deprivation can affect your performance at work

Home » How sleep deprivation can affect your performance at work

It’s no secret that a restful night has a positive impact on our wellbeing and health. But to what extent does the quality and duration of sleep affect productivity and concentration in our everyday working lives?

Unfortunately, many people regularly struggle to fall asleep and then maintain that sleep throughout the night (insomnia). In many cases insomnia can be caused by a build-up of stress in everyday life and often this can be work-related. When we have lots of worries on our mind or we feel anxious, it can be difficult to switch off our thoughts and get a good night’s sleep.

Why is sleep so important?

When we sleep, our bodies are in a state of rest. During this time, various processes take place which have a considerable influence on our health and mean that it is very important that we get enough sleep.

Sleep promotes self-healing: When we sleep our body temperature drops slightly and our breathing, pulse and blood pressure slows down. It is during sleep that self-healing is stimulated. Our bodies release growth hormones which are necessary for regeneration and also healing wounds.

Sleep boosts the immune system: During sleep, our bodies produce infection-fighting antibodies and cells which work against viruses and bacteria.

Information is processed during sleep: When we sleep our experiences of the day are processed. All information that has been recorded throughout the day is sorted, stored or deleted so our brains are ready to absorb new information the next day.

If there is a sleep deficit, these processes cannot fully take place as they should. This has a negative effect on work performance, among other things.

Sleep phases

With the help of an EEG (electroencephalography: recording of brain waves), brain activity during sleep can be recorded and allocated to one of the following sleep phases:

1. Fall asleep phase

This phase is the transition from being awake to sleeping. It usually lasts between five and 30 minutes. During this phase even small disturbances (e.g. noise) can cause the person to wake up immediately.

2. Light sleep phase

After the fall asleep phase is the light sleep phase. In this phase, our muscles relax further, breathing slows down and our heartbeat is slower. Eye movements also decrease. As a rule, our bodies are in this phase for about half of the total sleep time.

3. Deep sleep phase

In this phase our physical regeneration begins. Blood pressure, heart rate and respiration continue to drop and body temperature has reached its minimum. Our immune system becomes active and our brains process the experiences of the day. When we are in a deep sleep, even loud noises rarely disturb us and it is difficult to wake up.

4. REM phase

The REM-phase (rapid eye movement) can also be referred to as the dream sleep phase, since it is here that our nightly dreams take place. In this part of the sleep there is an increase in eye and brain activity, whereas other muscles in the body remain inactive.

5. Sleep disturbances

Sleep disturbances are characterised by a long fall asleep phase. This means that people who are affected lie awake for a long time and often brood over everyday stress. In general, their sleep at night is very restless and the person affected will often wake up multiple times. Sometimes they will also wake up very early in the morning.

Everyday worries and stress can cause sleep disturbances. However, stress at work or changing working hours (e.g. shift work) are also possible reasons for restless sleep. In addition, alcohol, drugs, certain medicines or nocturnal respiratory arrests can also cause people to wake up frequently. Last but not least, the quality of sleep can be negatively impacted if the rest period after work is too short (rest periods should comply with legal requirements).

Effects of sleep deprivation

The effects of too little sleep and sleep disturbances should not be ignored. In some cases there are only minimal effects (e.g. fatigue or lethargy), although the consequences can often be more severe. Examples of the impact of sleep deprivation are listed below:

–   Concentration, attention and reaction time decreases and the risk of accidents               increases

–   Fatigue increases, while performance and productivity decreases

–   Mood changes can occur (e.g. anger, irritation) and memory becomes poorer

–   Cardiovascular diseases, influence on thyroid hormones and metabolism, weakened     immune system, higher blood sugar levels, increased risk of diabetes mellitus and         depression

Tips for a restful sleep

·   Adhere to prescribed rest and working hours (Working Conditions Act)

·   Try to get enough sleep. Most adults need between 7-9 hours of sleep per night (the     optimum amount varies from person to person).

·   The optimal room temperature should be 16 – 18 °C

·   Avoid stimulating drinks such as coffee or alcohol before bed

·    Avoid watching the TV or using electronic devices such as mobile phones, laptops,        etc an hour before bed

·   Try to wind down at the end of your evening e.g. have a bath, read a book

·   Avoid sporting activities shortly before going to bed

·   Write down worries / fears / thoughts in order not to take them with you to bed

·   Ensure you have a balanced diet and exercise regularly

·   Try to establish regular sleeping times

·   Ensure you have a suitable mattress for your requirements


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