Productivity & Sleep: How Does Sleep Affect Productivity?

Sleep well, work better.
Productivity & Sleep: How Does Sleep Affect Productivity?
Tom Greenspan
December 21, 2022

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It’s the age of workaholics where professionals tend to focus heavily on being productive, sacrificing leisure and sleep in the process.

But did you know that poor sleep has a negative impact on your productivity? That feeling of exhaustion becomes difficult to manage over time, resulting in reduced attentiveness and increased chances of errors.

Poor sleep is good for neither your physical health nor your workplace health. In fact, being sleep deprived for extended periods of time can lead to severe health consequences. Not to mention how it hampers your ability to make decisions. Unless you take charge of the matter and get enough sleep, these problems will continue to cascade into bigger ones.

So, we’ve created this guide to help you understand how sleep and productivity are related. The steps to better sleep and improved job performance are just a scroll away.

How Sleep Affects Job Performance

It’s been known for ages that poor sleep only leads to unfavorable consequences in terms of health and productivity. And even though many are aware of this, chronic sleep deprivation has become something of an epidemic in the current age.

The reason for this is simple: the times demand that the average person remain competitive and keep up with the advancing society. Work hours can last upwards of 40 hours a week, which is not factoring overtime. With overtime in the equation, the number of work hours can reach anywhere from 45 to 60 hours a week.

Exhausting work hours in a vacuum can be fine in a sense, so long as the workers receive ample sleep to ward off fatigue. Unfortunately, that is not a common occurrence, as balancing home life and professional schedule is often not a feasible possibility.

Misinformation and lack of awareness lead to beliefs like skipping sleep to get some work done. Not only does this result in inadequate sleep, but it also hurts your productivity and job performance. And when this happens, the only solution to improving your productivity is to find enough sleep.

Sleep deprivation born of working habits can cause a myriad of health and productivity-related issues, including but not limited to:

  • Reduced concentration
  • Excessive sleepiness
  • Mood shifts
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia, sleep apnea and other sleep disorders
  • Mental health issues

Factors That Result In Decreased Work Productivity

When sleep specialists use the term “poor sleep”, they are usually referring to two specific factors. There are two primary barriers that negatively affect your productivity, namely sleep deprivation and inconsistent or irregular sleep.

1. Sleep Deprivation

Inadequate sleep fundamentally affects the sleep architecture that your body follows. Since sleep occurs in two distinct modes that repeat continuously, it’s important that your slumber isn’t interrupted prematurely.

These sleep modes are REM (Rapid Eye Movement) Sleep and NREM (Non-Rapid Eye Movement) Sleep. The former is responsible for retaining memory and emotional information, while the latter plays the important role of cell repair and toxic waste management.

If your REM sleep is disturbed, your body will repeatedly attempt to begin this sleep mode. This is what is known as a “recovery” state, which doesn’t last as long in a sleep-deprived state as it should. As a result, you may find yourself being more irritable and anxious.

But if your sleep during the NREM phase is interrupted, your body will not have had the chance to perform the necessary cellular repairs. Moreover, the toxic wastes in your body will not have been cleared because of the interruption. 

This causes the immune system of the body to grow weaker should you be deprived of sleep for several days in a row. You will be more at risk of chronic ailments and psychological disorders, which can have a negative impact on your overall lifespan.

2. Irregular Sleep

The human body follows a day-night cycle known as the circadian rhythm. It is responsible for falling asleep when the night rolls around, maintaining our biological clock by releasing melatonin. If you can’t fall asleep regularly, your circadian rhythms will be impacted negatively because of this.

With a disturbed sleep cycle, your body will release melatonin at the wrong time, which can make you feel sleepy at the wrong time of day. Your brain function is also severely impacted because of this.

Continuous elusive sleep is a point of worry, particularly if your working hours are long and without much to call for a respite. As the days go on, you will see a steep decline in your job performance. After all, your cognitive abilities take a plunge as your sleep health worsens.

Irregular sleep is often seen in day or night shift workers. As they continue to alternate between day and night schedules, their focus and cognitive abilities take a fall. This can lead to critical errors that may have unwanted ramifications.

The Impact Of Poor Sleep And Job Performance On The World

Poor sleep has very real consequences, impacting both the global economy and the workforce severely. This leads to heavy economic losses, costing hundreds of billions of dollars every year. Suffice to say workers being afforded the proper number of sleeping hours is beneficial for everyone in the world.

Sleep deprivation has led to people showing up late to work or skipping it entirely due to exhaustion. And if they do show up to work, their work performance is generally lower than what they are ordinarily capable of.

The entire workforce pipeline suffers because of lack of sleep, from the corporate level to the individual workers. For individual workers specifically, lost productivity contributes to lower wages earned every year. A survey on insomnia in America indicated that productivity losses result in two thousand dollars and 11 days of work performance lost each year.

Many have to resort to using sleep medicine to find the shuteye they need. Nationwide, this amounts to a total of 90 billion dollars per year in sleep medicine and treatment costs alone. 

How To Improve Your Sleep And Improve Job Performance

The relationship between sleep and workplace productivity goes both ways, where good sleep can help you increase your work performance levels. You can find the following benefits by getting a good night’s sleep every day:

  • Improved decision-making skills
  • Quicker reaction time
  • Better memory retention
  • Increased creativity
  • Quicker problem-solving
  • Reduced errors and improved accuracy
  • Reduced burnout risk

It’s essential that your body cycles through both sleep modes to reap these benefits. Deep sleep, in particular, is a critical stage for waking up refreshed and ready for the next day.

Here’s how you can ensure a good night’s sleep.

1. Stick To A Sleep Schedule

Sleep schedules are a highly personal aspect of one’s life and as such, everyone has a different sleep cycle that fits them the best. Some people find it easier to work through the night, whereas others may only be able to work effectively during the day.

No matter the preference, all that matters here is to stick to one sleep schedule to fit your lifestyle. Get enough sleep to be well-rested, and you will be ready to face the challenges that the next day presents. Remember to be diligent about it, or you could risk disturbing your circadian rhythms.

Additionally, you needn’t necessarily sleep for 7-9 hours every day that is recommended by the National Sleep Foundation. Your body may only need less than seven hours of sleep to feel rested. Or, it may need more than nine hours to fully ward off the fatigue. Whatever fits your needs is the best for you.

2. Create A Relaxing Bedtime Ritual

A relaxing bedtime ritual is a good practice in general, as it can promote healthy sleep habits over time. You will be able to fall asleep faster and get rid of sleep deprivation in an organized manner.

Much like a sleep schedule, a bedtime ritual is a highly personal task. Simply perform a series of relaxing tasks in the same order every day, for up to an hour. By doing so, your brain will automatically associate the activities with sleep, allowing your body to prepare for a deep slumber. Once you’re through with the tasks, you may start feeling a little drowsy.

Note that these activities shouldn’t be physically taxing, as they can stimulate your brain enough to keep you wide awake for a while. A warm bath, a cup of herbal tea, or writing a journal can serve as part of your bedtime routine.

3. Create A Restful Environment In Your Bedroom

Your bed is meant for sleep only, so you should keep anything even remotely related to work away from the bed. The goal is to relax, and exceedingly stimulating elements can cause you to remain awake for longer than what is desirable.

With these elements out of your bedroom, stay focused on what relaxes you in bed. Adjusting room temperature settings on your thermostat, drawing curtains, putting on an eye mask, and making your bed more comfortable can all help.

Remember to keep your bed well-cleaned and free of allergens, as they can cause you to lose sleep as well. Good sleep hygiene will only result in improved sleep duration and quality, after all.

4. Nap

If you’re struggling with daytime drowsiness, a short nap can help you recover the lost energy. Consider napping for 20-30 minutes to boost your productivity.

This is known as a power nap which takes the benefits of REM sleep and helps you feel refreshed afterward. It’s important to note that sleeping any longer than 30 minutes will risk you getting into a deep sleep state. And interrupting this stage can potentially cause you to feel much groggier as a result.

Schedule the nap when you need it the most, such as during the afternoon. Find a comfortable and quiet place to nap in, and get some quality sleep.

5. Go Outside During The Day

Sunshine can help get your circadian rhythm synched again, helping your brain relearn the natural sleep cycle. Simply going outside during the day can help wake you up and fall asleep at the right time during the night. 

Exposing yourself to the sun early in the morning, paired with a morning walk, can help you start and end the day well.

6. Keep Electronics Away From The Bed

Electronics, no matter the size or function, interfere with your sleep. This is particularly the case for smartphones, where people often check their social media feeds right as they are about to go to sleep.

The culprit here is the blue wavelength emitted by electronics, something that the brain usually associates with sunlight. Naturally, this messes up your body clock quite a bit, delaying sleep for a little longer each time you look at a smartphone screen.

Besides, checking work emails before bed can be quite stressful anyways, so it’s better to stay off the electronics before falling asleep.

7. Keep An Eye On Your Diet

Consuming stimulating substances can keep you awake for longer than what is desirable. Food and drinks loaded with stimulants, sugar, or fat keep your brain active, hampering your ability to fall asleep.

Refrain from eating heavy meals or drinking caffeinated drinks like coffee and energy drinks or depressants like alcohol before bed. And if you’re a habitual smoker, consider stowing the pack of cigarettes away for some time before bed.

8. Hit The Gym

Regular exercise will help you fall asleep faster. When you exercise, the sympathetic nervous system is stimulated, which induces an integrated response from your body. And the more you exercise, the harder your body has to work to be in a balanced state.

Your breath rate, heart rate, and blood pressure increase as your muscles demand more oxygen to continue performing the exercise. Once you stop exercising, you will be feeling tired some time afterward as the body recovers all the lost resources spent during the activity.

This fatigued state is what helps you fall asleep faster at night, impacting both your sleep quality and duration positively. By exercising regularly, you will be able to enter the deep sleep state much more reliably and without any interruptions.

Remember not to exercise at least a couple of hours before bed, since exercising is a stimulating activity.


Not sleeping well enough has consequences in both the long and short terms, affecting your overall health and productivity negatively. While solutions to the problem seem fine on paper, the reality of it may be different. 

In modern times, getting enough sleep is not a possibility for many workers. Maintaining work-life balance is a task that often results in people having to sacrifice sleep. There simply aren’t enough hours in a day to do everything that they are required to.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Simple lifestyle changes are all that is necessary to regain control over sleeping habits. Sometimes, this may necessitate the aid of sleep experts, but the sleep problems do have proven solutions.

At the end of the day, keeping your body well-rested is paramount, which depends on the steps you are willing to take for it.