How Lack of Sleep Affects Work Performance and What You Can Do About It

You may believe that pushing yourself to stay up late and get your work done indicates ambition and dedication to your job. But ask yourself, how often do you show up to work drunk? Do you think it’s a good idea to drink on the job? Because not getting enough sleep produces the same results.

A study on fatigue, alcohol, and performance impairment concluded: “it is clear that the effects of moderate sleep loss on performance are similar to moderate alcohol intoxication.” Staying up 24 hours straight is the same as having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of roughly 0.10%. That’s 0.02% over the legal limit in Alabama.

Depriving your body of sleep is the same as being legally drunk. 

Sleep is important. Although you’ve heard that for years, too many of us still see getting a full night’s sleep as a luxury rather than critical to our health and wellbeing. The effects of no sleep are serious. Go without sleep for long enough, and they can be deadly serious.

Sleep deprivation symptoms significantly affect both our bodies and minds. It can lead to weakened immune systems, depression and anxiety, heart disease, obesity, and much more.

In this post, we’ll cover the negative effects of sleep deprivation, how lack of sleep affects job performance, and how to build healthy sleep habits.


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How to Tell if You Are Sleep Deprived

The most obvious signs of sleep deprivation are excessive daytime sleepiness, reduced concentration, slowed thinking, as well as general irritability and grumpiness. 

It only takes one night of bad sleep to feel this way, and it happens to everyone. Think about how you feel after pulling an all-nighter. If you’ve ever had a baby, how did you feel in the weeks and months following?

Signs of sleep deprivation:

  • Drowsiness
  • Reduced alertness/slowed thinking
  • Reduced attention span
  • Impaired memory
  • Poor/risky decision making
  • Low energy
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Irritability and erratic mood swings

Symptoms vary depending on the person, the extent of their sleep loss, and whether the sleep deprivation is acute or chronic. Although caffeine momentarily mitigates these symptoms, your body and mind still require rest—and your brain will simply take it if it needs to. If you’re sleep deprived enough, your brain will literally put itself to sleep in the form of microsleeps.

Microsleeps can last anywhere between one to 30 seconds. During that time, your brain won’t process visual information. You likely won’t even notice it’s happening. So the next time you’re exhausted and about to get behind the wheel, think twice about it and remember how the effects of sleep deprivation compare to alcohol intoxication.

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    Short-Term Effects of Sleep Deprivation

    Acute sleep deprivation is very likely something you’ve experienced before. Our reaction time is slowed, our memory and attention span is diminished, and to top it all off, we’re easily irritated. It’s a terrible way to enter a workplace or classroom. 

    Plus, there’s the risk of microsleeps, which means acute sleep deprivation can cause accidents and poor decision making.

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      Long-Term Effects of Sleep Deprivation

      Long-term sleep deprivation, or chronic sleep deprivation, contributes to a shocking number of health problems. Lack of sleep negatively affects nearly all systems of the body. Sleep is fundamental to both our physical and mental health. Consistently denying your body the sleep it requires creates serious risks.

      Chronic sleep deprivation contributes to:

      • Cardiovascular disease
      • Obesity
      • Diabetes
      • Hormonal abnormalities
      • Immunodeficiency
      • Mental health disorders
      • Various cancers
      • Alzheimer’s disease and dementia
      • A greater overall risk of death


        🤯 …. A GREATER OVERALL RISK OF DEATH???? That’s the kind of thing to keep you up at night… OH NO!😱



        What Happens When You Don’t Get Enough Sleep

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        Sleep Deprivation Effects on the Body

        The negative impacts of sleep deprivation on our bodies are many and varied. Research has found significant connections between a lack of sleep and cardiovascular problems like high blood pressure, heart attacks, and strokes.

        When we don’t get enough sleep, we also tend to consume more calories, leading to obesity. Lack of sleep is linked to hypogonadism (low testosterone) in men, and it negatively impacts our body’s ability to regulate stress hormones. A lack of sleep also hinders our ability to regulate blood sugar, leading to diabetes.




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          Sleep Deprivation Effects on the Immune System

          Our immune system is fundamental to our overall health. It heals our wounds, prevents infections, and protects us against illnesses both chronic and life-threatening. It’s a self-regulating, complex process that ramps up while we sleep, performing actions that cannot be performed while we are awake.

          Not getting the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep every night hinders our immune function, which reduces the effect of vaccines, makes people with allergies more vulnerable to severe allergic reactions, and generally makes it easier for us to get sick

          The common cold is a nuisance, and the flu can be life-threatening. It’s never a good idea to risk getting sick, but it’s an especially bad idea in the midst of a pandemic.

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            Sleep Deprivation Effects on the Brain

            Sleep and mental health are closely linked. The long-term psychological effects of sleep deprivation can include various forms of depression and anxiety. Those already living with mental health conditions are more likely to suffer from sleeping disorders like insomnia. 

            Studies suggest that a good night's sleep cultivates both mental and emotional resilience, whereas not getting enough sleep makes us emotionally vulnerable and prone to negative thoughts.

            But the effects on the brain aren’t just psychological. Sleep expert Matthew Walker says, “wakefulness is essentially low-level brain damage.” Our brain is our body’s control center. It’s got a long, long list of important things to do. If our brain isn’t functioning properly, neither will our body.



              How Lack of Sleep Affects Job Performance

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              Poor Decision Making

              Do you make great decisions when you’re drunk? Do you ever wake up after a night of drinking and think, “holy cow, I am so happy with myself! I’m sure my ex will really appreciate all those profoundly articulate and completely polite texts I sent at 2 am! 

              Not getting enough sleep is akin to being drunk. A lack of sleep impairs our ability to think clearly, making us prone to risky, bad decisions. Our decision making skills continue to decline the more sleep deprived we become. Unless you’re a contestant on a reality television show, there’s no room for poor decision making in the workplace.

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                Impaired Memory

                Pulling an all-nighter, whether studying or completing a large project, actually impairs our ability to retain information. Our brains need adequate sleep in order to function at full capacity. You might think you’re taking in information, but the more sleep deprived you become, the more your memory diminishes.

                You need sleep in order to retain study notes, research, client information, meeting updates, and even basic job duties. And your brain won’t be shy about letting you know. If you don’t get enough sleep, your brain will take breaks in the form of microsleeps, where it will put itself to sleep for up to 30 seconds. You may not even realize it’s happening.

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                  Reduced Productivity

                  When you don’t get enough sleep, all of your primary functions slow down. Memory, reaction time, attention to detail, and patience are all hindered, making it more difficult to get work done.

                  You won’t find that productive groove when your brain is battling a lack of sleep. Working at 50% or 25% isn’t worth it. You’re better off prioritizing sleep and working at 100% for fewer hours of the day.

                  Plus, when you’re sleep deprived, you’re more likely to make costly mistakes. Poor decision making impacts productivity since it will take even more time to fix the mistakes you made when you were tired.

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                    More Sick Days

                    Sleep deprivation harms your immune system, which means you’re more likely to get sick. The

                    downtime from a bad cold or flu far surpasses the working hours you miss out on getting a full night’s rest.

                    Cold symptoms can last anywhere from 3-14 days, which is a huge amount of time to take away from your work. Plus, you’ll have to endure the annoying symptoms and you may make those around you sick too.

                      larry says

                      Remember to wash your hands regularly to prevent viruses and bacteria from spreading in the workplace. Read our guide:  Workplace DIY Hand Washing Station (With Printable Restroom Signs).



                      How to Build Healthy Sleep Habits

                      Follow our healthy sleep checklist   to build and maintain strong sleep habits.

                      • Assess your sleeping habits to determine what changes you need to make. Do you get 7-9 hours of sleep each night?
                      • Watch for signs of sleep deprivation and burnout. Adjust accordingly to get your body the sleep it so desperately needs.
                      • Build a bedtime routine that works for you and follow it each night. Tailor your routine to suit your needs, but include 1-2 hours of downtime before bed.
                      • Track your progress with a habit tracker or your own system to turn your routine into a habit you maintain every night.
                      • Keep your phone out of the bedroom and invest in an alarm clock instead. This will reduce blue light exposure and keep you from looking at your phone right before bed.


                      healthy sleep checklist



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                      Watch For Signs of Fatigue in the Workplace

                      Employers and managers should be aware of the effects of sleep deprivation. Watch for signs of fatigue and burnout in the workplace. Make sure your team isn’t being overworked. Their productivity, decision making, and health will all be hindered without adequate rest.

                      Educate your team on the importance of sleep and how a lack of sleep affects job performance. Ensure they know you value their health and want them to prioritize healthy sleep habits.


                        📚 Read Preventing Burnout in the Workplace: Actionable Strategies for Employees and Employers to learn more.



                        More from Blue Summit Supplies

                        💡 The Benefits of Work-Life Balance and How to Maintain it

                        💡 The Importance of Time Management and How to Optimize Your Time


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                        ABOUT THE AUTHOR

                        Jordan's passion for travel led her to design a career as a remote content marketer. Nearing 1000 published articles, she's spent the past decade using her interdisciplinary education to research and write content for a wide variety of industries. Working remotely, Jordan spends half of the year exploring different corners of the world. At home, she's content exploring fictional lands—Spark an immediate and detailed conversation by mentioning Game of Thrones, Red Rising, Star Wars, or Lord of the Rings.

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