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The Importance of Sleep for Workplace Wellbeing

By September 28, 2023April 19th, 2024No Comments

Sleep and workplace wellbeing

Workplace wellbeing is an important and popular topic that has led employers to invest in a employee wellbeing platform. Employers support their employees ‘ physical and mental health through personalised wellbeing apps, physical activity challenges, nutrition education, and employee assistance programmes.

The Overlooked Component: Sleep

One area of focus that has yet to receive more attention is sleep, as sleep and work productivity are essential components of employee health.

The Economic Impact of Sleep Deprivation

Sleep deprivation and poor sleep quality presents considerable health and wellbeing risks and has costly consequences for organisations. In Ireland, the situation is no less concerning. A lack of sufficient sleep affects overall wellbeing and significantly impacts productivity and the economy.

Sleep Deprivation in the Workplace

Insufficient sleep is much more dangerous than most people realise. It has many adverse effects on  mental wellbeing, physical health, and workplace morale, some of which we explore here:

Communication Breakdown

When employees reduce their quality of sleep, communication abilities diminish, impacting verbal exchanges and the understanding of non-verbal cues. Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to reduced clarity in articulation and impaired listening skills, creating misunderstandings that can be costly for the organisation.

Additionally, employees who experience poor quality sleep are less perceptive to non-verbal signals like facial expressions and body language and may exhibit reduced situational awareness. This affects team dynamics and can be especially problematic in sectors requiring high attention to detail, such as healthcare or manufacturing.

Workplace Safety Concerns

Tired workers are a danger to themselves and others, and the highest rate of significant workplace safety incidents is found among shift workers. It is well established that shift workers can experience severe fatigue due to lack of sleep or sleep cycle disruptions.

Some of the most severe workplace accidents have been attributed to fatigue, including Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and the Exxon Valdez.

How Sleep Deprivation Impacts Employee Productivity

When workers are tired, they are less likely to be vigilant, and their cognitive performance declines. This plays a crucial role in their ability to detect that their job performance is falling, which worsens the longer they work under fatigue.

Cognitive and Motor Skills

Job performance does not only suffer when employees lack adequate sleep, but they also have decreased cognitive abilities that directly translate to sub-par motor control. They may also need help with focusing and keeping track of activity sequences.

The Risk of Operating Machinery

If employees are required to drive or operate machinery, their inability to pay attention and decreased reaction time present considerable risks. One study shows that after 17 to 19 hours without quality sleep, performance was equivalent to or worse than a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level of 0.05 per cent.

Commission and Omission Mistakes

When a sleep-deprived employee comes to work, the number of errors increases with the time spent working. Sleep deprivation and productivity don’t go hand in hand.

Tired employees are prone to making mistakes of commission (performing an act that leads to harm) and omission (not performing an expected task). Both of these types of errors can impact workplace productivity and safety. Some examples include:

Commission Mistakes:

  • Data Entry Errors: Inputting incorrect data into a system could lead to financial loss or inaccurate decision-making.
  • Safety Violations: Ignoring safety protocols, potentially causing accidents or injuries.
  • Wrong Calculations: Making errors in financial or engineering calculations that could have significant consequences.
  • Unauthorised Actions: Taking actions without proper approval, leading to potential legal issues or financial losses.

Omission Mistakes:

  • Missed Deadlines: Failure to complete tasks or projects on time affects team productivity and timelines.
  • Neglected Maintenance: Forgetting regular equipment checks, leading to potential malfunctions or safety hazards.
  • Incomplete Documentation: Failing to document actions or decisions properly could lead to compliance issues.
  • Lack of Communication: Failure to inform team members or supervisors about critical issues leads to misunderstandings or missed opportunities.

The Emotional Toll of Sleep Deprivation

Sleep-deprived individuals are often un-engaged, exhibiting withdrawn and depleted energy levels. They are prone to inappropriate outbursts that can negatively affect working relationships with colleagues.This highlights the importance of promoting a healthy approach to sleep hygiene, sleep quality, sleep culture, and sleep patterns.

Emotional Instability in the Workplace

One of the most common negative impacts of poor sleeping habits is the decrease in emotional wellbeing. Sleepless employees may be unusually irritable, impatient, socially inappropriate, and uncooperative. If unmitigated, these behaviours can produce serious negative effects on the workplace and the employee.

Risky Business: Decision-Making and Sleep Deprivation

Cognitive studies have shown that sleep deprivation can result in higher levels of risk-taking behaviour. Not only are sleep-deprived individuals inclined to take more risks, but they are also less likely to think rationally and logically.

In the workplace, sleep-deprived employees are more likely to make riskier decisions and minimise the possibility of negative consequences.

The link between sleep deprivation and motor and cognitive function is straightforward.

Sleep-deprived workers present significant risks to themselves and others, affecting workplace and productivity levels and compromising the quality of the work.

Improving Workplace Wellbeing

Improving workplace wellbeing starts with recognising sleep’s vital role in overall health and productivity. Small changes can have a significant impact, benefiting both individual employees and the organisation as a whole. Here’s how to pave the path to improvement:

  • Acknowledging the Importance of Sleep: The first step towards a healthier workplace is acknowledging that sleep is crucial for wellbeing. This sets the stage for implementing sleep-friendly policies.
  • Simple Policy Changes: Implementing sleep-friendly procedures doesn’t have to be complex. Simple steps like encouraging regular breaks, promoting a reduction of screen time when the day ends, offering flexible work hours, and providing sleep education resources can make a sizeable difference.
  • Cultural Shift: One of the most impactful changes is fostering a culture prioritising wellbeing, including sleep. This can be achieved through workshops, seminars, and even integrating sleep metrics into performance reviews.
  • Employee Morale and Lifestyle: When employees see that their well-being is a priority, it boosts morale and encourages a balanced lifestyle. This, in turn, leads to better sleep and increased productivity.

The Economic Benefits of Better Sleep

The impact of sleep on the economy is a growing concern not just globally but also in Ireland. According to research by Gallup, lost sleep costs the US economy billions of dollars in lost productivity each year, and the situation in Ireland is no less concerning.

When people in Ireland sleep better, the ripple effects are felt across various aspects of life and the economy. Improved sleep leads to healthier eating habits, increased physical activity, and enhanced stress management.

These lifestyle improvements contribute to individual wellbeing and translate into increased productivity and reduced healthcare costs, benefiting the Irish economy.

A Holistic Approach to Employee Wellbeing

Improving employees’ sleep should be a part of every organisation’s wellness strategy, with rest and work productivity interlinked.

Employees’ physical and mental health will improve, they will be more productive, and the organisation will benefit from reduced absenteeism, workplace incidents, and healthcare costs.

Conclusion: Prioritising Sleep in Workplace Wellbeing Strategies

As we’ve explored, sleep is an often overlooked but crucial component of workplace wellbeing. The consequences of sleep deprivation are far-reaching, from impaired communication and increased safety risks to compromised job performance and emotional instability.

Yet, the good news is that even small changes in sleep habits can yield significant benefits for individual employees and the organisation.

Our data shows that better sleep can improve physical and mental health, increase productivity, and provide substantial economic benefits. For instance, just one additional hour of sleep per night could add billions to the economy.

Therefore, incorporating sleep improvement measures into an organisation’s wellness strategy is not just a health imperative but also an economic one.


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