Sleep deprivation is not just about ‘feeling tired’. It can also cause serious problems in both personal life and in the workplace.
Modern lifestyles are often defined by long working hours, continuous use of mobile technology, and the need to function across different time zones. All of these are significant contributors to sleep problems, with most people trying to balance at least one of these factors with getting a good night’s sleep.
So how can lack of sleep affect work performance?
It can affect it on so many levels – productivity, quality of performance and even relationships with work colleagues. Without adequate sleep, concentration, learning and communication levels can be significantly compromised.
Memory lapses are common after a poor night’s sleep and problem–solving abilities decline. In the vast majority of roles, working memory and processing ability are important for most tasks and require a great deal of focus and concentration. A reduction in the quantity and quality of sleep causes productivity and efficiency levels to be significantly reduced.
And it’s not just work performance which is affected. Sleep-deprived people can be moody and less tolerant of co-workers on a personal and professional level. They may be more prone to outbursts and other relationship-limiting behaviours. Work relationship problems not only impact on the individuals, but often on the entire team, and may lead to inefficiency and job dissatisfaction.
Stress is often the culprit for many problems such as ill health, emotional and psychological problems and indeed, sleep issues. Many people take their work ‘home’ with them, not just physically but metaphorically too. It is becoming increasingly difficult in the modern age to just disconnect from work entirely. It has become very difficult to resist a quick check of work emails from your phone, tablet or laptop before heading off to bed.
And this is also the case for stay at home parents and students who simply can’t switch off the on-going to-do list at the end of the day.
But these are not necessarily stand-alone problems. Problems at work with performance levels and relationships increase stress levels, which in turn exacerbate sleep problems.
So, what can we do to help?
- Reduce overall caffeine intake and only drink non-caffeinated drinks after lunchtime.
- Make sure you eat breakfast and don’t skip other meals. Avoid heavy, rich foods in the evening and be cautious with spicy or acidic foods which can cause heartburn.
- If you’re sitting in an office all day, get up and walk around from time to time; go outside at lunchtime
- Regular exercise can improve the symptoms of insomnia and increase the amount of time you spend in deep levels of restorative sleep.
- Expose yourself to natural light during the daytime hours and keep the room dark at night.
- Avoid late night television or computer work. All screens emit blue light, which is particularly disruptive to sleep patterns, so avoid using any screens in the hour before you go to bed.
- Leave stress behind by writing down tomorrow’s to-do list at the end of each day and try to put those items out of your mind once they are written down.
- And most of all – try to relax!