Sleep and Job Performance: How Sleep Can Affect Work

Written by
Purple Staff
Last Updated
July 26, 2022
min read

In today's productivity culture, sleeping has become underrated. People spend a ridiculous number of hours at work to the point of sleep deprivation. 

According to research, 25% of U.S adults are at risk of sleeping disorders, such as sleep apnea and insomnia. The same report suggests that sleep deficiency contributes to declining job productivity in the workplace.

Unsurprisingly, sleep and job performance go hand-in-hand. Sacrificing a good night's sleep for work and then working overtime to make up for missed deadlines can generate a vicious cycle.

If you understand the relationship between sleep and job performance, then you can cultivate a healthy lifestyle and a thriving career. In this guide, find out how sleep influences your work performance and discover active measures to safeguard your health with optimal sleep.

How Does Sleep Affect Work Performance?

Sleep deprivation is rampant in the workplace across various industries. The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7 to 9 hours of snooze time for the body to recharge fully. However, one-third of employed U.S. adults sleep an average of just 6 hours, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Sleep is vital for the body to function at its optimum level. While asleep, your brain and body undergo biological processes that restore your ability to function. This is critical for the recovery of the cardiovascular and immune systems. On top of this, sleep enhances your cognitive capacity, allowing you to think sharply, absorb information fast, be creative, manage emotions appropriately, and feel recharged when you wake up.

Conversely, when you neglect sleep, you impair your ability to function. This means you compromise your work productivity and become more susceptible to mistakes. When you make errors, you could work longer hours without making any significant progress. 

Consequently, stress builds up, and you become frustrated. This happens because brain neurons are worn out, causing impaired thinking and emotional drain.

The Effects Of Sleep Loss

It takes a lot of mental effort to stay productive when you’re drowsy. When your body and mind ache for bedrest, executing tasks that demand careful attention becomes difficult.

Here's what happens when you get insufficient sleep:

Cognitive Decline

Your cognitive performance declines significantly if you have poor sleep habits. This affects the range of tasks you can deliver. Your strategic and creative thinking also suffers, leading to poor decision-making.

Poor Emotional Regulation

If you are sleep-deprived, your ability to digest emotional information can be impaired – resulting in impulsive, irrational, and aversive reactions. This happens because your limbic system fails to regulate your emotions effectively, potentially leading to workplace animosity and disagreements.

Memory Dysfunction

During sleep, your brain consolidates information from the day and converts them into memories. It's vital to get ample time to sleep for the brain to learn and remember. If your brain is not functioning well, this can lead to blind spots in memories and loss of productivity. Remember that retaining work-related information is crucial to succeed in your career.

Problems With Attention And Focus

One of the effects of sleep deprivation is reduced alertness and concentration. When your body fails to sufficiently metabolize glucose for energy, it’s challenging to stay concentrated. And if you can’t pay attention, you may become confused and inefficient – this will affect your ability to execute complex tasks. 

Physical Health Issues

Studies show that insufficient sleep has detrimental effects on a person's physical health. When your cortisol levels (a.k.a. the stress hormone) increase and trigger fluctuations in the endocrine system, your immune system degenerates – leaving you vulnerable to infections and diseases. 

Conditions associated with chronic sleep deprivation include diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, heart failure, and stroke. A lack of sleep also has potential negative mental health effects, such as depression and anxiety.

Benefits Of Sufficient Sleep

Due to career demands and other endeavors, many people overlook the necessity of a good night's sleep. Experts and researchers have reiterated the critical role of sleep in immune function, emotional balance, learning, and other vital functions. 

Find out what sleep does to your well-being and job performance below: 

Boost Immune System 

Multiple studies have shown that restorative sleep strengthens the immune system and protects your body from illnesses. A recent report by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine also suggests that quality sleep increases the efficacy of vaccines

Maintain Or Prevent Weight Gain

Experts associate sleep deficiency with a greater risk of unhealthy weight gain. If you consistently get inadequate sleep, your appetite is likely to increase due to the ghrelin hormone. Your body's leptin production, a hormone that stimulates feeling full, also decreases. As a result, your cravings increase, leading to an unhealthy snacking diet.

Strengthen Your Heart

Did you know that poor sleep quality can increase your risk of developing heart conditions? Research analysis shows that undersleeping (fewer than 7 hours) resulted in an increase of 13% risk of death from heart disease. When your body releases stress hormones called cortisol, it signals your heart to work harder than normal. Like other human body systems, your heart also needs rest to operate properly.

Improve Memory

Sleep helps you retain memories and information. If you are sleep-deprived, your brain will likely fail to process sensory input, which is crucial for learning. If sleep deprivation is chronic, this can ultimately detach you from reality and even cause hallucinations.

Better Emotional Well-Being

A sleep-deprived brain is reactive to uncomfortable situations. You are prone to react irrationally, which could potentially escalate into arguments with colleagues. Contrarily, if you've got a good night's sleep, you feel refreshed and are more likely to react logically to different situations. 

Increase Productivity

Inadequate sleep can rather put your career on the line. Working overtime may help you succeed in moderation; however, if you skip sleep regularly, you could experience adverse effects at work. In fact, mounting evidence shows that an adequate amount of sleep seriously boosts your job performance.

How Much Sleep Do You Need To Be Productive?

There is a difference between sleep that keeps you awake and sleep that gives you optimal functioning. This is why sleep quality matters just as much as, if not more than, sleep quantity. 

Today's career-driven society has normalized 5 or 6 hours of sleep as the "acceptable" bedtime benchmark. However, just because you can function on 6 or 7 hours of sleep doesn't mean you should. People who get less than 7 hours of sleep are prone to sleep deprivation. This is especially true for people who do not complete the critical stages of sleep, such as deep sleep and REM sleep, which are crucial for cognitive functions.

Although sleep requirements differ as you age, the National Sleep Foundation suggests that adults ages 18 to 64 need a sleep duration of 7 to 9 hours for optimal productivity. Also, despite the idea that sleep quantity should diminish as you get older, most older folks still need at least 7 hours of a good night's sleep.

Am I Getting Enough Sleep?

Some people downplay the necessity of sleep due to demanding work or family commitments. Even if you compensate for your sleepless nights by sleeping a full 8 hours in the succeeding days, you may still be oblivious to how much a lack of sleep affects you.

How can you be sleep-deprived and not know it? If you skip sleep all the time, you probably don’t remember how it feels to be fully awake and energized. You may have also gotten used to constantly feeling sleepy in the middle of the day.

Here are more signs that you might not be getting enough sleep:

  • You heavily rely on an alarm clock to wake up on time.
  • Getting out of bed feels like a burden.
  • You doze off during meetings or team discussions.
  • You randomly crave foods or drinks to alleviate stress.
  • You consistently take power naps in the middle of the day.
  • You get drowsy after eating heavy meals.
  • You feel moody when going to work.
  • You find it difficult to perform tasks that require concentration (e.g., writing, making reports).
  • You make use of weekends to compensate for lost nights of sleep.

If you have at least three of the above symptoms, you are sleep-deprived.

5 Ways To Improve Your Job Performance

How often have you spent your workday feeling lethargic, grumpy, or downright unproductive? While it happens to everyone at some point, consider rethinking your lifestyle if it happens all the time.

Even if you have the best skills for the job, it can be tough to carry out your duties if you're sleep-deprived. A good night's sleep and job performance go hand-in-hand – you need both to succeed in your career.

Here are some ways to improve your efficiency and productivity through better sleep:

Develop A Bedtime Routine

Night shift workers often find it challenging to create a bedtime routine due to their fluctuating circadian rhythm. If this erratic sleep habit persists, there could be negative effects, such as the development of sleep disorders. 

This is why establishing a healthy bedtime routine is essential for restorative sleep. A good bedtime routine could include taking a warm bath, meditating, reading a book, and setting feasible daily goals. 

Improve Your Sleep Hygiene

Proper sleep hygiene is essential for optimal sleep and maximum productivity during the day. Here are a few sleep hacks:

  • Establish a consistent sleep schedule by going to bed and getting up at the same time every day.
  • Do not use electronic devices (e.g. smartphones, computers, or TV) at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
  • Make sure your bedroom has a relaxing, dark, and quiet atmosphere.
  • Avoid snacks, alcohol, cigarettes, and caffeine before bedtime.

Take Power Naps

Power naps may appear like a band-aid solution for sleep loss, but they can help you feel energized throughout the day. However, make sure not to take late naps in the afternoon, as they can disrupt your bedtime routine. A 20-30-minute power nap should suffice, as longer naps can make you feel groggy after waking up.

Reassess Priorities 

Stress in your career and personal life can impact your sleep. This is where setting clear goals and boundaries come into play – if a habit or situation no longer contributes to your welfare, it might be time to cut it off and replace it with something that encourages your growth and happiness. Whatever you do, you have to prioritize sleep if you want to perform efficiently at work. 

Think About Your Mental And Physical Health

Sleep deprivation impacts both your mental and physical health. On the surface, cutting out a good amount of sleep may seem like no big deal, but this unhealthy pattern might translate into severe mental health conditions, such as anxiety and clinical depression, in the long run. 

Inadequate sleep can also affect your physical well-being through heart disease, reduced immune system function, and low sex drive. If you want to thrive in your career, make sure to keep your mental and physical health in regular check.


Getting a good night's sleep can help you take care of your job performance and overall well-being. While it can be easy to undermine sleep for the sake of a blossoming career, the detrimental effects are certainly not worth it. 

Before you think of robbing yourself of a good night's sleep for extra productivity, weigh the consequences against the benefits thoroughly. If you don’t, you're only setting yourself up for failure.

Frequently Asked Questions On Sleep And Job Performance

How does sleep improve concentration and productivity?

Getting a full night's sleep encourages concentration and productivity. During sleep, your brain gets recharged and, in turn, enhances information retention and problem-solving skills. These are imperative for workplace productivity.

Can I work with only two hours of sleep?

Sleep requirements differ from person to person, but experts suggest that getting at least 7 hours of sleep allows you to function at work optimally. If you only sleep for two hours, working in a demanding environment can burn you out. Sleep loss can result in mental impairment and irritability, leading to a substantial loss of productivity.