Why sleep is a key ingredient to a productive work life
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Why sleep is a key ingredient to a productive work life

Why sleep is a key ingredient to a productive work life

There is a huge cost to the effectiveness of an organisation due to sleep deprivation


A few more clicks on the mouse, a couple more swipes on the smartphone, and I’ll get off to bed. But it doesn’t happen.

Instead when I glance at the time, the promise of getting to sleep early has gone by the wayside. Tomorrow night, I console myself, I’ll get to sleep early so I don’t wake up feeling like a train wreck.

We’ve all inflicted this fickle behaviour upon ourselves and regretted it, but the impact is not only personal but also organisational. In fact, there is a huge cost to the effectiveness of an organisation due to sleep deprivation.

According to Gallup, 40 per cent of Americans get less than the recommended seven to nine hours every night. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has labelled this lack of sleep a “public health epidemic” due to the huge health and performance costs associated with not getting enough sleep. In a study by Professor Vicki Culpin from Hult International Business School, her team monitored the sleep behaviour of 1,000 professionals at all levels, and the impact of sleep on workplace performance.

The team’s findings suggested that lack of sleep can fundamentally hinder a manager’s ability to perform at their peak and lead to other damaging physical and emotional side effects.

“It is common for managers and colleagues to look at a lack of focus or motivation, irritability, and bad decision making as being caused by poor training, organisational
politics or the work environment. The answer could be much simpler – a lack of sleep,” she says.

In addition, there are also the physiological impacts on the individual. One of them is an erosion of the immune system – a topic of much debate in the middle of a global pandemic. According to research undertaken by the Harvard Centre for Healthy Sleeping, sleep deprivation may decrease the ability to resist infections, such as the common cold.

In one study cited by Harvard, the researchers found that people who averaged less than seven hours of sleep a night were about three times more likely to develop cold symptoms than study volunteers who got eight or more hours of sleep when exposed to the cold-causing rhinovirus. In addition, those individuals who got better quality sleep were the least likely to come down with a cold.

When you add a bad diet and little exercise into the mix such as when we’re confined to the house during a lockdown, then our energy levels – and productivity – can spiral out of control quickly. When I found that lack of sleep was affecting my ability to perform at work, I created a night-time routine so that my alarm went off at 9pm. This
meant I would now start getting ready to go to sleep.

For me this meant closing all my electronic items, being in bed by 9.40pm, reading for 20 minutes and then falling asleep at 10pm, so that I could wake up a 5.45am and feel really fresh. It had a huge boost on my performance and helped clarity of thinking.

You need to work out a bedtime routine which works for you and the cultural context in which you find yourself. However you run it, you should be aiming to get between 7-8 hours of uninterrupted  sleep.

I appreciate that if you have young children, then of course this is not always possible. I fondly remember my own children turning up beside my bed early on a Saturday morning and asking me to switch myself on at 6am.

Either way if you want to become more effective and help your organisation do so, then settle down, relax, put your head to the pillow, and sleep for the job.

Rehan Khan is a principal consultant for BT and a writer of historical fiction

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