5 Unusual Ways Lack of Sleep Hurts Productivity

When we don’t get enough sleep, our productivity suffers not just because of how much less work we can tackle, but because our brains seem to go haywire in other ways. When sleep deprived, people tend to have worse judgment and decision-making skills, their ideas of risk change for the worse, and their creativity decreases, too. [Most of the info and all of the citations below comes from Killgore (2010).]

1. Impaired Judgement and Decision-Making

For starters, emotional processing seems to change for people who are sleep deprived, and that can affect their judgement and decision-making. Sleep deprived people rate their moods more negatively and have a lower tolerance for frustration. Studies show they tend to be biased toward negativity. They are also less forgiving, caring, and more self-focused than when they get enough sleep.

Bear in mind that being sleep deprived can happen through small but consistent inadequate sleep. Getting as little as six hours of sleep per night over two weeks caused similar effects in people who hadn’t slept for two days straight.

2.Creative Thinking Goes Downhill

Creativity seems to suffer greatly too, which is a problem for people who have to come up with inventive and quick solutions as part of their work.

“[I]n one study, 32 h of sleep deprivation led subjects to produce less creative responses than normally rested controls, as evidenced by generation of fewer unusual or original ideas and reduced ability to shift strategy (Horne, 1988). This same study also showed that sleep deprivation reduced verbal fluency (i.e., the ability to generate novel words to a phonemic cue) and led to longer duration of planning time and more perseverations on the Tower of London Test, a measure that draws upon planning and sequencing and the ability to shift to alternative strategies.”

3. Risks Don’t Seem So Risky

In studies, sleep deprived people had a more unrealistic expectations of potential gains and underestimated the losses. In other words, they were more likely to partake in risky ventures because they had a more skewed idea of the risks, rewards, and consequences.

“When sleep-deprived subjects made risky decisions, they showed increased activation of reward centres, consistent with an expectation of gains (Venkatraman et al., 2007). By contrast, when sleep-deprived subjects experienced losses, they show reduced activity in brain regions normally associated with aversion and punishment. In other words, sleep deprivation may alter the normal functional activity of brain networks involved in the evaluation of rewards and punishments, leading to changes in risk-related judgements that may favour unrealistic expectations of gains and under-estimation of the consequences of losses.”

4. Best Response Times Dip

When researchers test response time, it’s probably pretty obvious that sleep deprived people have slower times. But their times are not only slower on average. Their best times are also lower than when they get sufficient sleep. Reaction times are important in manufacturing work, driving, and other physical endeavors.

5. Memories and Learning Don’t Stick

Lack of sleep negatively affects people’s ability to remember positive and neutral things, but they remember negative things just fine. Similar to the risk-taking problem described previously, sleep deprived people may just have a skewed understanding of reality.


Killgore, W. D. S. (2010). Effects of sleep deprivation on cognition. Progress in Brain Research, Elsevier. DOI: 10.1016/B978-0-444-53702-7.00007-5. Retrieved 29 July 2016.

Image by Henti Smith, CC.


2 thoughts on “5 Unusual Ways Lack of Sleep Hurts Productivity

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s