Sleep affects every aspect of our waking lives, including our working lives. How much and how well we sleep both have a tremendous impact on work productivity, performance, and safety, as well as on health and morale.
Lots of Work, Too Little Sleep
A great many working adults in the United States and around the world aren’t getting enough sleep. Nearly one-third of American workers—that’s about 40 million adults—are sleeping no more than 6 hours a night. That’s substantially lower than the 7-9 hours of nightly sleep that’s recommended for maintaining health and normal daily activity levels. Many of these people are also suffering from one or more sleep disorders, leaving tens of millions of working adults struggling with disrupted, insufficient sleep and its impact on daytime functioning.
At What Cost?
The financial costs of poor and insufficient sleep are staggering. Sleep problems cost many tens of billions of dollars each year to the U.S. economy. These costs accrue in several ways: missed work days, reduced productivity, higher rates of accident and injury, and greater reliance on health-care services—more doctor and hospital visits, higher prescription and over-the-counter sleep and other medication use.
More Than Money
The full costs of poor sleep to work extend far beyond dollars. Lack of high-quality, sufficient sleep affects nearly every aspect of workers’ ability to function. Poor sleep makes the workplace a more dangerous, less productive, less positive and creative place to be. Poor sleep:
- Undermines performance, diminishes productivity. Moderate sleep deprivation impairs cognitive and motor skills as much as (or more than) alcohol intoxication. Sleep deprived, people perform as poorly as those whose blood alcohol levels render them legally too drunk to drive. Sleep problems also negatively affect focus, attention, memory, learning, decision-making and creativity, to the detriment of work productivity and performance.
- Weakens social and interpersonal skills. Sleeplessness interferes with social functioning, alters mood, and puts strain on work relationships. Lack of sleep impairs our ability to empathize, makes us less inclined to work cooperatively, and contributes to a more negative outlook. Poor sleep even compromises ethical behavior. Sleep has a demonstrated influence over leadership skills—poor sleep impedes positive, dynamic leadership.
- Increases accidents and injuries. Poor sleep elevates risks for injury and accidents at work. Sleep is directly responsible for at least 13% of work injuries. Sleep is also attributed as the cause of at least 20% of all motor vehicle accidents.
It’s up to employees and employers both to do their part to make sleep a priority. Sleep-better programs and sleep education belong in the workplace. Efforts to help working adults sleep plentifully and well each night is an investment that pays substantial rewards to work life.