How Sleep impacts Mental Health and Productivity

It’s advised that we get between 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night, but with the pressures of work, family, and social media, many of us are getting less and less sleep, and feeling the impact the next day.

It’s not just the amount of sleep that’s important, it’s also the quality of sleep. If our sleep is interrupted, it can be almost as bad as not sleeping at all.

Even if we actively try to sleep better, roughly a third of people around the world struggle with disrupted sleep.

Unfortunately, this has a knock-on effect on our mental health, which in turn negatively impacts our performance at work.

Why sleep is important for mental health

Sleep helps regulate our emotions

We’ve all had days where we haven’t gotten enough sleep, and snapped at someone we shouldn’t have.

Sleep helps us balance and control our emotions, without it, we can struggle to manage when things get difficult. A lack of sleep increases negative emotional responses when things go poorly, and lessens positive responses when things go well.

What’s worse, this effect compounds with each night of disturbed sleep.

Insomnia increases the chances of developing mental health issues

Around 75% of people with depression experience some degree of sleep disruption, and you’re around ten times more likely to develop depression if you’re experiencing insomnia. This can create a vicious cycle, as poor mental health can make it harder to sleep, making the condition worse.

This is seen particularly with anxiety, as not getting enough sleep can cause people to worry about sleep, and this anxiety makes it even harder to rest properly.

Going without sleep for an extended period of time also increases the risk of developing perceptual distortions and hallucinations, which can also hinder good restful sleep.

How sleep can impact work

A lack of sleep impairs overall cognitive function, meaning it’s far harder to focus on work, be creative, or apply attention to detail.

Productivity losses associated with a lack of sleep are estimated to be around £1,000 a year per employee. Additionally, the presenteeism associated with employees struggling with insomnia is around 8 days of lost work per year.

While over 50% of major companies offer wellness programmes or incentives for their employees, very few actively encourage sleep as part of them.

But some companies have hired sleep experts, or run sleep workshops to help their employees sleep better.

Lack of sleep reduces concentration

One of the biggest areas that suffer when we haven’t slept is our ability to concentrate. If we’re tired, we can’t give things our full attention, which means things are more likely to slip through the cracks.

Lack of sleep impacts memory

On top of poor concentration, sleep also makes our memory worse, so we’re less able to complete all our tasks.

Lack of sleep makes it easier for us to feel overwhelmed

Finally, with the reduced ability that a lack of sleep brings, we’re less able to deal with the pressures of work. Our resilience plummets. Small problems that usually wouldn’t phase us can send us spiralling, making it much harder to get any work done.

Tips for improving sleep

One tip we have that can help anyone start sleeping better is to limit the time we spend on devices at least one hour before bed. The blue light from phones, laptops, and other screens has an impact on our eyes that makes it much harder to achieve deep, quality sleep. If you can avoid spending time on your phone before bed, it will help you feel more rested the next morning. 

The good news is that sleep can be improved, both through small changes at home, and through psychological science.

Once sleep improves, other areas of life improve as well, as our emotions return to balance, making it easier for us to excel at work.

Learn more about why sleep is important for work, or read about how to help your staff cope with the demands of work.


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Posted on: 17th March 2022