I imagine you’ve heard and read about how short on sleep most of us are now. 1 in 3 of us are now sleep deprived. You wouldn’t be alone in thinking that how or when you sleep is private and isn’t anything to do with anyone else – least of all your boss! But you would be wrong! The sleep deprivation epidemic isn’t just something that costs individuals, it costs business too. Big time. So much so that what happens to you when you turn out the light at night is something that businesses, managers and workplaces need to know about and do something about.

Accidents and Mistakes – the risk of accidents increases hugely when people are sleep deprived. If you are awake for 17 hours continuously – so only get 7 hours sleep – this is an equivalent impact to 2 glasses of wine in terms of co-ordination and decision making. Having less than the recommended 7-9 hours per night creates a lack of balance and a corresponding risk of falls. High profile accidents such as Chernobyl nuclear reactor, Exxon Oil Spill and Challenger Space Shuttle disaster are all recognised to be caused by sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation is particularly an issue for those in the construction industry, who drive and handle machinery. It’s also an issue for surgeons and other similar roles. Tiredness can kill.

Lower Employee Engagement – companies spend a lot of time and money trying to measure and increase employee engagement. Sleep deprived employees are more likely to be withdrawn and become disengaged and negative about everything – work included. It’s not possible to have positive employees if they are all sleep deprived. Most approaches to employee engagement are just too silo focused to make a sustainable difference.

Cognitive Abilities and Performance sleep deprivation means that the brain can’t function logically. Meaning you won’t have a clear head in order to make decisions and problem solve. For those whose work needs great detail sleep deprivation it will be difficult to keep the high level focus required. And you will be more likely to make mistakes. Sleep deprivation also impairs our judgement. Think the financial sector and the impact of not being able to think clearly. Millions of pounds lost – instantly. The short and long term memory is also strongly impacted by sleep deprivation – another important factor in performance.

Teamwork and Communication – with 84% of people saying they feel irritable when they have poor sleep, this will inevitably cause communication issues and misunderstandings within teams. The saying – “It’ll all look different after a good night’s sleep” is a wise one. However if you are chronically sleep deprived more of the same won’t make a jot of difference! Within teams there may be conflict because some people are carrying more than others. Tears, paranoia and disagreements are common reactions when people are sleep deprived! The difficulty in making decisions will slow down project work and have negative consequences.

Physical health – those who regularly get less than 7 hours sleep are 3 X more likely to get a cold or virus, and then slower to recover. Weight gain – and the risk of obesity – is strongly connected to chronic sleep deprivation as the brain isn’t able to pick up the signals that you are full.  The risk of heart disease and diabetes is a risk if you get less than 5 hours a night sleep. The risk of stroke is increased by 4.5% when you have less than 6 hours sleep a night.

Mental health – sleep and mental health are very closely interconnected. Night time waking or struggling to get to sleep can be a sign that stress – particularly work stress – has become a problem. Anxiety will often keep people awake, getting more and more distressed. Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to psychosis, depression and anxiety.

Long hours culture and technology use – the way work has spilled into our personal lives has been massively detrimental to sleep quality. People feel they must check and send emails all evening – even just before turning the light off – and immediately first thing in the morning. The impact of this can be seen with struggling to sleep, poor quality sleep and being worried or anxious about work almost all of the time.

We all know that sleep isn’t an added extra. It’s essential for life. Without it we literally die. What happens at work affects our sleep and when we are sleep deprived it affects the performance of the business. A healthy business needs people who are rested and ready to get going with the goal at hand. A business that wants to grow and thrive needs to look widely at what impacts employees and finding solutions for sleep deprivation is an important part of this.

Business performance is like the completion of a jigsaw and wellbeing and employee engagement are essential pieces that everything else rests on.

What are your views on this?

Adelle Shaw-Flach is Director of The Sweet Potato Consultancy. We help create solutions for businesses to increase productivity and results, this includes culture, wellbeing and employee engagement.

Get in touch – adelle@thesweetpotatoconsultancy.com


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