Even minor sleep loss during a work-week greatly interferes with job performance and judgement, according to researchers. And while the effect of a poor nights sleep on job performance is unlikely to surprise, what is surprising is the amount needed to induce it – just 16 minutes.
Researchers from the University of South Florida surveyed 130 healthy employees who work in Information Technology and have at least one school-aged child.
They found that loss of 16 minutes was enough to drastically reduce the quality of a worker’s sleep, and result in reduced cognitive performance the next day. These workers also had raised stress levels, especially regarding issues related to work-life balance, resulting in them going to bed earlier and waking up earlier due to fatigue.
Lead author and assistant professor, Soomi Lee, said employers should do more to not only not disrupt their workers’ sleep, but to actively promote it.
“These cyclical associations reflect that employees’ sleep is vulnerable to daily cognitive stress and also a contributor to cognitively stressful experiences.”
“Findings from this study provide empirical evidence for why workplaces need to make more efforts to promote their employees’ sleep. Good sleepers may be better performers at work due to greater ability to stay focused an on-task with fewer errors and interpersonal conflicts.”
Workplace sleep interventions could include reducing obligations to check work emails after hours, and promoting regular exercise
Another study from Colorado State University (CSU) specifically examined the relationship between employee sleep patterns and workplace safety behaviours. Not surprisingly, the researchers found that construction workers who had a poor nights sleep experienced more lapses in attention, memory, and action at work. These episode were collectively referred to as ‘cognitive failures’.
Workers with insomnia symptoms also exhibited reduced safety behaviours and experienced more injuries.
A cognitive failure could include: not remembering the correct work procedures, or whether work equipment has been turned off; unintentionally pressing a control switch on machines; or accidentally starting or stopping the wrong machine.
CSU graduate and study author, Rebecca Brossoit, said there was a clear “business case for caring about sleep.”
“Organisations, especially safety-sensitive ones like construction, should care about their employees’ sleep, because it can impact the safety of the workplace, and put workers at risk.”