Guest blog: How sleep can affect your work and what you can do about it

Monday, 15th July 2019

Guest blog by Russell Beck, Lorien 

Businesses everywhere are looking to get more for less, to increase the output from what they already have, to increase their productivity. Yet as The Economist has stated ‘one-third of British businesses have seen no increase in productivity since the millennium.’

For most organisations, their single biggest expense is employees. This is true of Impellam where I work and where the salaries of our people account for over 75% of our operating costs. It is easy to see therefore that a rise of just 1% rise in staff productivity would have a major impact on our bottom line. But, what can we do?

Too often we consider productivity in terms of creating structures, routines, processes, management that boost output and reduce error. We measure and record to eek outs small gains of a few tenths of a percentage point here and there. This is fine – but can only go so far – we are missing the biggest piece in the puzzle, we are missing the human at the centre of it. We are missing what makes each of us work at our most productive. Sleep has a massive impact on us as people and on our businesses.

Consider just three impacts on us as people:

• A 2011 study looked at 500,000 people across 8 different countries they found that sleep deprivation increased a person’s risk of getting or dying from Cardio Vascular disease by 45%. Further a study of Japanese males over a 14 year period showed that those who slept 6 hours or less a night were 500% more likely to suffer a cardiac arrest that those who slept more
• Researchers are finding significant links between short-sleep duration across a person’s life span and the risks of developing numerous forms of cancer, specifically cancer of the prostrate, breast and bowel
• Many people are not comfortable with genetic engineering – GM food or embryos as examples – but getting insufficient sleep is performing a similar genetic manipulation on ourselves
• At any given point in time, an individual who sleeps on average between 6 and 7 hours per night has a 7% higher mortality risk than someone sleeping within a ‘healthy sleep range’ of between 7 and 9 hours. This risk rises to 13% if an individual has less than 6 hours sleep per night.’

From this it is easy to see the impact of sleep on business, again as examples:

• Losing 90 minutes of sleep ie getting 6½ hours for one night instead of 8 hours decreases your alertness the following day by one third
• Research by The Sleep School in London highlighted that a single bad night’s sleep can reduce productivity by 57%. A separate study by the Associated Professional Sleep Society estimates the cost of loss productivity associated with poor sleep quality at USD2,280 per employee – equivalent to a 7% pay rise for everyone in the UK
• If you are awake for 17 to 19 hours (ie got up at 06:00 and went to bed between 23:00 and 01:00) then individual performance on a range of tasks is equivalent to that of a person with a blood alcohol level of 0.05% – the definition of being legally drunk in many countries. Push it to 20 hours and the effect of the wakefulness means your performance equals that of someone with a blood alcohol level of 0.1% (ie legally drunk in the USA). Likewise, if you average 4 hours of sleep a night for 4 or 5 days it is the same. You might as well be, from a performance perspective, be drunk. You would never say ‘this worker is really great he is drunk all the time;’ yet we laud people working 80 hours a week.

The data is unequivocal. Sleep is not an optional life style luxury. Sleep is a non-negotiable biological necessity. It is a life support system. The findings of the 2017 Sainsbury’s living well index revealed sleep quality as the strongest indicator of living well. In fact a good night’s sleep was perceived as being more valuable than a 50% salary increase.

Frankly if your business has a wellness program of any sort and you are not considering sleep then you are just tinkering at the edges, and given the benefits it may well save you some money! Get a full night of sleep without the embarrassment and stigma of laziness and finally remember what it is like to be awake during the day.

Our seminar on ‘Productivity: Sleep, how it impacts you and your business and what you can do about it’ considered what sleep is, the impact on us as individual and our businesses, how we can individually get more sleep and what businesses can do to support it. This is one of a series of seminars we run on how to make business better, and better for everyone. If you would like to know more please contact: Russell.Beck@impellam.com or 07710 898904 or Darren.Topping@lorien.co.uk or 0161 888 2535.