Lack of Sleep Affects Work Productivity More Than Hangovers, Study Suggests

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Wednesday 27th May 2015

Recent research has placed lack of sleep above drinking and obesity in terms of productivity in the workplace.

According to new research, falling asleep at your desk after a bad night’s sleep has a worse effect on your productivity than having a hangover. These findings are from a study commissioned by Vitality Health and carried out by Rand, following a study of 21,000 employees in the UK. Half of the respondents had university degrees and the average age was 36.

Workers who slept for six or less hours a night were significantly less productive for those who slept for the recommended seven or eight. Poor sleeping patterns were also discovered to harm employees’ productivity more than smoking, obesity and alcohol.

Many of the participants struggled to sleep because of concerns over their finances. Others lost sleep due to unpaid care duties to family members, for instance young children. These concerns were also linked to poor performance at work.

Sleeplessness can also cause “presenteeism’. This refers to when workers are physically present in their place of work but are not as productive as they could be. Those with mental health problems like stress were found to be more likely to practice presenteeism.

Other problems included workers with chronic and musculoskeletal health conditions such as backache, who reported higher rates of presenteeism and absenteeism than workers who do not suffer from such conditions.

45% of participants reported unrealistic time pressures as a major cause for a lack of productivity. Workplace bullying and strained work relationships were also a common concern.

Viewing these problems as a whole, they can all be causes of damaged sleep if people are lying awake at night feeling anxious about work the next day. Poor sleep seems to be the only symptom that requires more than a sleeping pill to cure.

The message to employers, schools and parents is to support people with anxiety and stress problems, encourage better work relationships and address bullying.

Being an unpaid carer for family members is an issue that stretches society-wide. Support for disabled or ill relatives and childcare can be inadequate.

Although the research suggests that alcohol is a lesser cause for concern when it comes to productivity at work, Hermitage Medical Clinic’s sleep scientist and respiratory physician John Faul has said that alcohol is actually one of the leading causes of sleeplessness. He helped to conduct a sleep survey for the Irish Times in 2014 and said that Ireland is becoming sleep deprived. Research by Amarach Consulting suggest that around one third of Irish adults report not getting enough sleep.

Lack of sleep is also linked to an increased diabetes risk, due to eating impulsively and more throughout the day. It is also associated with a heightened risk of Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Professor Christian Benedict from Uppsala University in Sweden discovered even one lost night of sleep can cause brain changes similar to concussion in young men. These results were measured by finding the same biomarkers in sleeplessness from brain damage as in head injury.