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Sleep And Work

Updated on March 24, 2010

How does sleep affect your work performance?

Sleep and work

Why do we feel so useless the morning after we've had a late night?

It is often difficult to cram in all the activities we want to do in a single day. As a result, sleep is often sacrificed and this can affect both our health and productivity.

Exactly what happens during sleep is not fully understood. However, we do know that the body repairs and restores itself while we sleep. Sleep is vital to keep our bodies and minds functioning properly. A good night's sleep can dramatically raise alertness, increase energy, enhance observational skills, boost motivation and measurably improve our ability to process and interpret data. Insufficient sleep prevents full repair and growth, producing both a sleep debt and symptoms of fatigue.

Sleep and work

Sleep and work are closely related. Being awake longer allows you more hours to get more done. However, being sleepy can affect the quality and quantity of your work. According to Dr Allan Pack, medical director of the National Sleep Foundation, pressure to get your work done often gets a higher priority than sleep. This is confirmed by a National Sleep Foundation survey that identifies work as a major cause of lack of sleep. Nearly half (46%) of people who reported occasional or frequent insomnia, cited stress as the primary factor in interrupting their sleep1. However, a good night's sleep enables us to be better equipped to deal with stress.

The cost of insomnia and sleep deprivation is enormous. Fatigue can impact all aspects of our lives, from personal relationships to our ability to concentrate and perform daily tasks.

The effect of sleepiness on work is widely recognized, as results of the National Sleep Foundation survey show2:
  • About half of the workforce (51%) report that sleepiness on the job interferes with the amount of work they get done.
  • Many adults (40%) admit that the quality of their work suffers when they're sleepy.
  • At least two-thirds of adults say that sleepiness interferes with their concentration (68%) and makes handling stress (66%) on the job more difficult.
  • Overall, employees estimate that the quality and quantity of their work is diminished by about 30% when they are sleepy.

How to make the most of your sleeping time

Getting enough sleep can be difficult for many reasons, including high workloads, caring for small children, and a noisy environment. Try and take steps to reduce the impact of these factors on your sleep. For example, make sure your curtains block out all light, investigate soundproofing for your windows or use some low-level white noise (wave noise, or a fan) to mask outside noise. If children are the problem, try taking turns with your partner to get up during the night.

Anxiety is one of the major causes of insomnia. If anxiety affects your sleep, think about how you can reduce your stress. Make a list of all the things you have to do before you climb into bed, so you don't lie awake worrying. Spend a little time winding down before you go to bed - take a warm bath, or listen to relaxing music.

When you do go to bed, don't expect to fall asleep the moment your head hits the pillow. Don't panic if you don't fall asleep right away. If you are tired, sleep will come. But the more you worry about it the more you will slow down its arrival. Try some breathing exercises to quiet your mind:

  • Breathe in for a count of four, hold for four, breathe out for four, hold for four and then repeat.
  • Imagine you are drawing the edge of a square on each part of your breath. Draw this square in your mind as you concentrate on your breathing for a few minutes.
  • Let yourself relax and your mind unwind. If you really can't sleep get up, read a book, make yourself a warm drink (not caffeinated) and go back to bed when you are sleepy.

If you don't get enough sleep during the week, make sure you catch up on the weekend, so that you can function well during the week.


  1. Work demands and stress may be robbing Americans of sleep, Gallup survey reveals. National Sleep Foundation, 1995.
  2. National Sleep Foundation releases new statistics on 'Sleep in America'. National Sleep Foundation, 2000.


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