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7 Subtle Signs Sleep Deprivation Is Jeopardizing Your Job

Here's how skipping slumber could mean lower productivity, forgetfulness, and other problems that are sabotaging your performance at the office.


Why sleep is practically a job requirement

According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults up to age 64 should get 7 to 9 hours of sleep daily and adults 65 and older should strive for 7 to 8 hours. However, if you don’t get this amount of shut-eye on a regular basis, both short and long-term problems could be in your future. “The research is clear and unambiguous that not only is sleep essential to every part of our physical health, mental health, and overall well-being, but that we’re also much better at our jobs when we sleep enough,” says Arianna Huffington, founder and CEO of Thrive Global and the author of several books including The Sleep Revolution. Read on for some signs that sleep deprivation may be putting your career in jeopardy.


All-nighters aren’t boosting your performance

If you’re burning the midnight oil at work but not noticing much in the way of improved performance, lack of sleep could be why. Pulling all-nighters in an effort to boost productivity will only backfire, because you’ll be more tired at work. “Right now, much of the world is operating under the collective delusion that overwork and sleep deprivation are simply the necessary price we have to pay for success,” Huffington says. “This has resulted in a global epidemic of burnout and stress.” Not only that, but your performance plummets. According to Pete Bils, vice president of sleep science and research for Sleep Number, “After 17 hours awake, you start to see all sorts of deterioration to performance—both cognitive and physical. Recovery from that can take days,” he says. In fact, experts say that our sleep crisis is making us sick, fat, and stupid.


Your creativity and decision-making abilities are slipping

Not getting enough sleep, whether from consistently working late or binge-watching Netflix into the wee hours, can interfere with your ability to stay mentally sharp on the work front. Huffington says that when you get enough sleep, you’re not only healthier mentally and physically, but you’re also better at handling your duties. “We’re more creative, more productive, we make better decisions, we collaborate more effectively, and we perform better cognitively across the board,” she says. Check out these suggestions to help you get a better night’s sleep.


You’re racking up more sick days

After a while, lack of sleep is bound to take a toll on your physical health. Weight problems, blood pressure irregularities, and general bouts of ill health are par for the course without adequate sleep. This creates a double whammy: Not only is experiencing bad health annoying and frustrating, but it can mean big financial losses for your employer too. “Productivity losses related to personal and family health problems cost U.S. employers $1,685 per employee per year, or $225.8 billion annually,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Ultimately, over time, having a big sleep debt can literally kill you. points to studies that link getting less than six or seven hours of sleep nightly with an increased mortality risk—yikes! No matter how much sleep you’ve gotten, learn how to stop yawning in front of your boss.


Your mood and mind seem foggier

Do you find yourself less focused during presentations, or just more sluggish at work than you used to be? Bils says that you can chalk up these changes in general well-being and mood to circadian rhythm disruption. “Keeping long or irregular hours throws many biological and cognitive processes into disarray, dramatically affecting mental acuity—our minds are in a fog,” he says. Bils explains that it’s like being jet-lagged without having gone anywhere. If you can catch a brief nap, that will help. Learn more about the brain-boosting power of naps.


You’re not retaining information

If you used to be as sharp as a tack, processing information from meetings and reports with great ease, but no longer find this to be the case, well, you guessed it—sleep deprivation could be the reason. Michael J. Breus, PhD, a clinical psychologist known as “The Sleep Doctor,” explains that you need enough REM (rapid eye movement) sleep in order for your brain to solidify memories. “REM sleep is where you move information from your short term memory to your long term memory,” he says. “When you do not get enough sleep, you miss out on REM, and this effects memory.” University of Pennsylvania researchers have found that just three consecutive nights of getting only four to five hours of sleep could lead to irreversible brain cell damage. The study was done with mice, but researchers believe the results may apply to humans, too. On the flipside, studies have linked snooze time with memory improvement and learning. (Use these strategies to get your memory back on track.)


You tripped on the way to a meeting…again

Lack of sleep can even make you a bit more accident-prone at work. According to the National Sleep Foundation, very sleepy employees are “70 percent more likely” to be involved in accidents compared to their well-rested colleagues. Some dramatic examples: The nuclear plant disaster at Chernobyl was linked to sleepy employees, as was the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster and the Exxon Valdez oil tanker spill. Here’s how to stay sharp even when you’re sleep deprived.


You’re irritable

Feel more annoyed than usual at that chatty colleague? Just about lose your cool when another meeting is called? Feelings of irritability, anger, and hostility are common when you’re short on sleep, notes Amie M. Gordon, PhD, in Psychology Today. UC Berkeley and Harvard Medical School research has found that sleep deprivation makes it harder to control emotions. You’re also less likely to be friendly and empathetic. Clearly, none of these are promotion-worthy traits. Do yourself a favor and reap the many rewards of getting a solid eight hours. Use these pro strategies to get your best sleep ever.

Jennifer Lea Reynolds
Jennifer Lea Reynolds is a journalist and advocate. Her articles on mental-health topics like ADHD, body image, relationships, and grief have been published in outlets including U.S. News & World Report, Reader’s Digest, Woman’s Day, Smithsonian magazine, Mental Floss, and The Huffington Post. She has been a featured guest on national podcasts, including Distraction and Health Check. Reynolds is the founder of The Kindness Couture, an effort dedicated to shedding cloaks of negativity and making sure kindness remains in style. From kindness in the corporate culture to easy ways to demonstrate caring acts, she is dedicated to showcasing the benefits of compassion and empathy. Motivated by her own unpleasant experiences with bullying, Reynolds also draws on research about the decline of workplace kindness. Her Facebook page, The Kindness Couture, provides more information about increasing empathy. Reynolds is the author of two children’s picture books encouraging kindness, compassion, and hope in young people—Carl, The Not-so-Crabby Crab and The Cat Who Loved the Moon. A graduate of Monmouth University, she lives in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire.

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