How bad sleep affects productivity

Krista Krumina 4.03.2019
how insomnia affects productivity

Most people are able to recognize the signs of a poor night’s sleep in themselves. A short-temper, stress, headaches and fatigue are all common side effects. Fewer might be able to see the signs that bad sleep is also affecting their work performance. 

If you’re not getting a healthy amount of sleep every night, you can experience serious disruptions to both your workflow and productivity. It’s crucial to make sure you’re getting the sleep necessary to remain an effective and efficient employee.

Want to get the most out of your time?
Try DeskTime for free!

Try free for 14 days · No credit card required.

By signing up, you agree to our terms and privacy policy.

Try DeskTime

What is ”bad sleep”?

Ever feel more exhausted when you wake up than you did when you went to bed? Or find yourself relying on coffee to get through your morning routine?

You wouldn’t be the first, and certainly not the last. These are the signs of bad sleep, meaning sleep that is either not long enough or not deep enough, based on scientific recommendations and your own personal needs. 

There’s a lot that goes into your sleep that can dictate your quality of rest. Most often, inadequate sleep is caused by anxiety, poor health, chronic pain, or sleep disorders, but it can also be influenced by things as small as what you ate for dinner or how loud your neighbors are. To maintain good sleep patterns, it’s important to make healthy choices in every aspect of life, including diet, exercise and stress relief.

insomnia productivity

The average adult should get between seven to nine hours of sleep a night, cycling between light, medium, deep and REM sleep stages. Your nightly sleep cycle typically occurs twice each night, and every stage plays an important role in your body and brain’s restoration. If you cut the process short, you’ll likely miss out on essential health benefits like disease prevention, stress management, and energy restoration.

Along with these health concerns, bad sleep can cause a litany of issues in the office. We’ve listed some of the ways that inadequate rest can specifically affect your productivity. Keep these in mind when planning out your day to ensure you’re making enough time for proper sleep and remaining a valuable team asset.

It impairs focus

Focus is one of the most critical aspects of a productive day. The ability to sit and concentrate on completing one task often improves your ability to finish quickly and accurately and will allow you to produce more work. Sleep deprivation, however, can impair your ability to focus on specific tasks or information while ignoring distractions, otherwise known as ”selective attention”.

A 2010 study set out to test this theory. The study had participants listen to two stories at once and asked them to pay attention to only one. Half of the participants had kept their usual sleeping habits, and half hadn’t slept for a whole day.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the study found that the ability to tune out distractions and concentrate is significantly higher in people who are well-rested. This shows that those who get a good night’s sleep are much more likely to be able to concentrate on their tasks and complete them in a timely manner as opposed to those who are sleepy and struggling to focus. 


Lowers creative problem-solving

One of the most important skills in any industry is the ability to find creative solutions to complicated problems. Whether you’re trying to figure out which direction to take a new fashion line, or how to expand into a new business market, every industry relies on creativity to analyze and solve problems to produce high-quality offerings. 

Sleep restores and strengthens creative abilities, while a lack of rest can impair them. During REM sleep stages, your brain becomes more flexible. This improves its ability to make, strengthen, or weaken neuron connections in different cortexes and boost its ability to start creative connections.

This means, however, that poor sleep can lower your ability to think outside of the box. In fact, researchers found in a 2004 study that participants who didn’t sleep before performing a complicated task were much slower at discovering strategies to complete the task faster. This implies that a poorly-rested brain is less equipped to analyze a situation and find creative solutions to improve it. Therefore, those who don’t sleep well are at a creative disadvantage, unable to restructure information and find new insights than their rested coworkers. 

bad sleep affects creativity

Saps energy

We all know the feeling of fatigue that follows a poor night’s sleep; its ability to wipe us out and ruin the day can be extremely frustrating. It’s this exhaustion that can also interrupt your motivation and daily flow. Workers who are tired are much more likely to rush through projects, and waste time only half-focusing, or worse, snoozing at their desks.

While you sleep, your body restores its systems in order to better perform its daily functions. Your ability to focus is based on the state of your appetite, brain cell functioning, immune system, and hormone balances, all of which are regulated overnight. These processes help you to be refreshed and energized in the morning, ready to tackle difficult projects.

In comparison, after a night of poor sleep, your brain will begin to fog and you’ll find difficulty paying individualized attention to tasks. For every half hour of sleep missed, you are less alert the following day and more likely to make mistakes. In fact, a third of workers report making mistakes on the job while tired. This lowers productivity by causing you to waste time editing and revising.

Inadequate sleep also pulls from your ability to collaborate constructively within a team environment by sapping your energy and shortening your temper. Bad sleep is best to be avoided if you want to remain a motivated and energetic worker.

lack of energy

Shortens memory

Memory is an essential part of any job. So many aspects of success depend on a strong memory – from broad ideas like improving upon past mistakes or sharpening your knowledge base to small details like remembering meetings or maintaining business relationships. Individually, a good memory will help you complete projects in a more informed, and therefore faster, way.

During slow-wave sleep, the deepest level of slumber, memories are replayed, consolidated and stored. This process is what integrates them into your existing knowledge and sets of skills. In fact, some scientists even posit that this replaying is what makes up our dreams: an interpretation of our memories that occurs while our brains store them.

Getting in a full eight-hour night is crucial in completely storing the day’s memories and maintaining those in your long-term memory. Therefore, it can help expand your intelligence and future proficiency while completing tasks.

In contrast, losing out on sleep can interrupt the brain’s storage process and shorten your memory. This can lower your ability to learn new skills and adapt to change quickly, as well as remembering basic facts that are relevant to your job. It can take time away from your current responsibilities by forcing you to relearn pertinent information.

good sleep improves productivity

How to get better sleep

  • Asses your needs. While most adults require dark, cool and quiet environments, everyone has different sleep needs that are specific to them. Is your neighborhood loud, or your partner a snorer? Do you need a special mattress or pillow for extra support? Do you need more than nine hours of sleep a night? Make sure you assess your unique needs to perfect your sleeping environment before making any drastic lifestyle changes. 
  • Relieve stress. Anxiety and stressful thoughts are one of the biggest contributors to insomnia. It’s important to clear away any remaining stress from the day before crawling into bed. Whether it’s a warm bath, exercise, reading, or meditative thinking, find what stress relief technique works best for you to improve your sleep. 
  • Get outside more. Your sleep cycles are regulated by circadian rhythms, internal patterns that dictate when you feel tired. They’re controlled by the sun, or lack thereof, and are the reason why you feel tired at night and awake in the morning. It’s important to get outside to soak in some sun or moonlight to keep your circadian rhythms in a natural swing. This should help you feel sleepy at bedtime and wake up refreshed.
  • Eat melatonin-rich foods. Melatonin is the hormone that your circadian rhythms release to make you tired or wakeful. While it occurs naturally in the brain, you can supplement your levels by eating certain melatonin-rich foods near bedtime. Almonds, oatmeal, spinach and grapes are all full of the nutrient and can help you feel tired enough to fall asleep. 
  • Ask a doctor. If you continue struggling to get a good night’s sleep, you may have a sleep disorder that can be addressed medically. Sleep apnea, insomnia, restless leg syndrome, or sleepwalking can all interfere with your ability to drift off but can be treated by a doctor or sleep specialist. Consider asking for help in order to maintain a healthy brain and body overnight. 

Maybe you have your own way of ensuring you get good sleep? Let us know in the comment section below!

Did you find this article useful? Give it a clap!


Psst! You can clap more than once if you really loved it 🙂