Would you say that not getting enough sleep decreases productivity? Of course you would. We’ve all heard about the dangers of not getting enough sleep. Being excessively tired while driving could be as dangerous as driving while intoxicated. We’ve all read about how lack of sleep impairs our skills, and that lack of sleep doesn’t just mean not sleeping enough one night, but that the effects can be cumulative. Most people have experienced first-hand the feeling of not being able to function or think clearly as a result of being sleep deprived.
But what’s the actual cost, in money, of lack of sleep on productivity?
Just How Bad Are Sleepy Workers?
Mark R. Rosekind and his fellow researchers surveyed more than 4,000 workers at four U.S. companies in 2006-2007 to gauge the cost of poor sleep. To get a diverse data set, the companies selected represent four different industries: health care, manufacturing, ground transportation, and air transportation. In other words, we’re not dealing solely with so-called knowledge workers here.
The workers filled out a survey with 55 questions. The first part of the survey collected information about the respondents demographics, as well as their sleep and medical issues. The second part asked questions that measured how much health issues interfere with job performance and productivity, looking at time-management skills, physical performance, mental performance and interpersonal skills, and output. The health-related portion of the survey also collected data about mental health, physical health, and being overweight or obese. Being overweight or obese has a high correlation with sleep apnea, and two-thirds of all respondents (66.8 percent) fell into this category.
The workers were classified into four groups based on their data: insomnia sufferers, insufficient sleep syndrome sufferers, those at-risk of poor sleep, and good sleepers.
To get into just a little bit, insomniacs here had to meet the minimum criteria for primary or secondary insomnia as outlined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The insufficient sleep syndrome sufferers had to meet criteria set by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. The at-risk group was defined as those who did not meet the criteria for the first two groups but did report a medical, psychological, or sleep condition, and had at least one sleep complaint. The good sleepers were everyone who didn’t meet the other criteria and reported no more than one sleep complaint. Even good sleepers aren’t necessarily perfect sleepers.
It’s worth pointing out that insomnia is largely a self-diagnosed condition, and the fact that it is can be seen as problematic for dealing with sleep disorders at large. People often underreport their sleep time or underestimate the quality of their sleep. Regardless, this survey asked people whether they had a sleep disorder diagnosed by a physician, and a little less than 10 percent of them (395 people) said yes. Among those, 57.1 percent had sleep-disordered breathing, while only 27.6 percent had insomnia, and 14.4 percent had restless leg syndrome.
I mentioned already the four areas where workers were rated:
- time-management skills,
- physical performance,
- mental performance and interpersonal skills, and
In all of them, the good sleepers had the best scores, and the insomniacs had the worst.
Take a look at the table. It’s astonishingly clear.
It’s also startling to see that time-management had the greatest difference. Time-management affects everything we do!
It gets worse. Sleepiness or fatigue really took a toll on the insomnia group in decision-making, attention, memory, and motivation to work. The ability to concentrate, communicate, and function socially also had big hits for the insomnia group.
Putting a Dollar Sign on Lack of Sleep
“Based on the salary figures provided by each participating company, the mean estimated annual cost per employee (expressed in 2007 $US) of sleep-disturbance–related at-work productivity loss was greatest for the insomnia group at $3,156/employee (range among the four companies, $2,531 to $3,980). For the ISS group, the mean figure was $2,796/employee (range, $2,410 to $3,556), and for the at-risk group, it was $2,319/employee (range, $1,790 to $2,996). The good-sleep group had the lowest mean figure, $1,293/employee (range, $1,148 to $1,593).” (Rosekind et al., 2010)
Insomniacs hurt the bottom line.
What Can You Do?
People know they should sleep more. People know they should go to bed at a consistent time each time. They know they should aim for at least seven hours of sleep. They know they shouldn’t look at screens at least 30 minutes before going to bed. But if you told someone who considers himself an insomniac to simply get more sleep, that person would tell you it’s just not possible. Correcting sleep behaviors is very difficult, and sometimes it’s out of our control.
It’s not always out of our control, but it’s really hard. Telling someone who sleeps less than five hours a night to get more sleep is similar to telling someone who’s overweight to eat healthier and consume fewer calories.
The researchers don’t go into any detail about the obesity and overweight data, but they let us know it’s there. Two-thirds of the respondents were overweight or obese. Two-thirds! And sleep apnea is highly correlated with being overweight. Sleep is a health problem, and to tackle it, we need to address it as such, the same way we need to address weight, diet, and exercise.
If you want to be your most productive, you need to be healthy, and that includes getting adequate sleep on a continual basis.
Rosekind, M., Gregory, K., Mallis, M., Brandt, S., Seal, B., & Lerner, D. (2010). The Cost of Poor Sleep: Workplace Productivity Loss and Associated Costs. Journal Of Occupational And Environmental Medicine, 52(1), 91-98.
Photo by Michael Summers, CC.