The Cost of Sleep Deprivation

“After being awake for 20 hours straight, you are as impaired cognitively as you would be for someone who is legally drunk.”

It sounds like an exaggeration, but it’s not. It’s a quote from Matthew Walker, an English neuroscientist at the University of California, Berkeley, talking about ‘the business case for sleep’ on an episode of the BBC’s Business Daily.

Imagine if one of your employees or colleagues came into work drunk, they would be sent home and disciplined, if not sacked. But sleep-deprived, it’s their issue to deal with, to trudge through tasks slowly and unproductively.

What are the numbers?

According to research by RAND Europe Germany’s economy loses $60 billion a year due to lack of sleep, 1.56% of its GDP. The United Kingdom has similar losses of around $50 billion (1.86% of its GDP). The United States loses a staggering $411 billion a year (2.28% of its GDP).

It’s not just the lack of productivity that adds to the economic cost of sleep deprivation. An employee who isn’t getting enough sleep is more likely to become physically or mentally unwell and be absent from work, or be involved in a workplace accident due to lapses in concentration.

How much is enough sleep?

Somewhere between 7 and 9 hours of uninterrupted sleep is recommended for adults. If you find yourself waking up multiple times during the night, it might be time to consult a doctor about a potential sleep disorder.

woman sleeping on brown armchair

What can employers do to help?

  • Limit or prohibit overtime: it’s proven that productivity drops over the course of the day. Excessive overtime has a negative impact on work-quality and employee health.
  • Workplace napping: a study into the benefits of a fifteen-minute post-lunch nap concluded that it has a positive impact on daytime alertness. It would certainly help evade the post-lunch slump that we know all too well.
  • Provide access to a fitness facility or subsidise a gym membership: not only is it a great employee benefit, but regular exercise promotes healthy sleep. One study went as far as introducing treadmill workstations, asking the participants to spend at least two hours per day using the treadmill. They recorded significant improvements in blood pressure and sleep quality.

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