Sleep Deprivation and Mood
Even if the sleep-deprived employee doesn’t make a mistake that puts the company in the headlines, the decrements in mood and ability to handle small irritants can adversely impact morale. When an employee does not get adequate rest at night, they experience an increase in subjective stress and negative mood the following day. Situations and comments that they would ordinarily shrug off irritate employees who are tired because of inadequate rest. This increases the amount of stress they experience during the day. Their grumpy reactions increase stress in those they interact with. Since stressors during the day interfere with sleep at night, these factors feed into one another. The researchers speculated that sleep deprivation sets people up for meltdowns in response to stimulus that seem relatively minor when the person is well-rested. When an employee flies off the handle or stomps out of the office in response to situations they should be able to handle, they may need a nap.
Grumpy, irritable co-workers can create a toxic work environment. Let’s face it, no one wants to walk on eggshells at work; worrying that the wrong look, tone, or words will upset a co-worker is stressful. Grumpy employees are more likely to be uncivil toward their co-workers which can adversely affect productivity and turnover.
Sleep Deprivation and Workplace Incivility
Workplace incivility, in contrast to harassment, bullying, and abuse, refers to less intense behaviors that disturb the psychological tranquility of those around the person. Incivility increases stress. Workplace incivility can involve words or the absence of words (deliberate exclusion), gestures, or the absence of gestures (shaking the hands of two of the people in a group but not the third is an example). The impact of workplace incivility varies among individuals. For some sensitive people with low-stress management skills or low self-esteem, workplace incivility can be devastating. As someone with a high tolerance for dismissing co-workers’ antics, I didn’t perceive it as the serious problem it is until I read a research study done in a neonatal ICU (NICU) and realized that incivility in that environment leads to babies dying because of the increase in errors that occur when incivility is present in the work environment.
“Even mild rudeness can have adverse consequences on the diagnostic and procedural performance of NICU team members.” In their study, “rudeness explained 52% of the variance in diagnostic performance and 43% of the variance in procedural performance.” Chronic sleep loss accounts for 23% of the decrements in physician performance. When you consider the findings that sleep decrements increase sensitivity to slights, sleep loss will increase the perception of incivility, making the combined effect much higher. While not every job involves fragile newborn babies, nearly every job poses some risk of loss from gross errors. Even if it is just a grumpy employee being rude to a customer in ways that are not socially acceptable, the prevalence of cameras and social media can make an international Public Relations nightmare out of what would have once been an isolated incident.
Professional conduct requires polite behavior. Sleep-deprived employees struggle to meet this standard. Sleep deprivation decreases self-control. Researchers recommend that companies eradicate the causes “of toxic workplace environments to ensure their prosperity and success.” This goal will be nearly impossible to achieve unless the company addresses sleep deprivation and stress.
Sleep Deprivation and Important Relationships
Relationships with significant others, children, parents, neighbors, co-workers, bosses, and strangers can all be negatively impacted by sleep deprivation. A natural outcome of being more prickly, grumpy, and irritable is worsening relationships. As sleep deprivation makes the person less fun to be around, the quality of their relationships declines. Whether reacting more negatively to someone who cuts them off in traffic or interpreting benign comments more negatively, leaning toward negative interpretations when communicating with people makes clear communication more difficult.
“Sleep deprivation increases emotional reactivity” and can cause emotion dysregulation.
Because relationships are important to us, we tend to lose sleep worrying when our relationships seem to be going astray. If we perceive an innocuous comment in a negative light, we can lose hours of sleep wondering why they would say something so rude when the truth is we put our own negative spin on it, causing us to misinterpret the comment. Losing sleep over our relationships causes our sleep deprived condition to continue. Sleep quality declines when relationship quality declines. Poor sleep quality leads to more interpersonal conflict and less effective conflict resolution.
Sleep Deprivation and Health
Both our mental and physical health are negatively impacted when we do not get adequate sleep. Stress is a root cause of many physical and most mental illnesses. Inadequate sleep is stressful.
|Short-term consequences |
§ Somatic problems
§ Psychosocial issues
§ Mood disorders
§ Cognitive deficits
§ Reduced quality of life
§ Increased somatic pain
§ Cognitive performance deficits
§ Increased risk taking
|Long-term consequences |
§ Cardiovascular disease
§ Negative effects on total body functioning
§ Type 2 diabetes
§ Decreased immune function
The above problems can occur in otherwise healthy adults as the result of sleep disruptions or sleep deprivation. Although you can jump on these downward spirals at any point, getting off works best when multiple strategies are applied at the same time. The downward spiral is much like one of those children’s roundabouts or carousel’s you see on a playground that spin around fast. To get on or off safely, it must slow down. Addressing more than one issue at a time slows it down and helps you end the downward spiral. In the same way, the presence of more than one factor can create a downward spiral that moves so fast it takes your breath away right along with your job, marriage, or health.
Good stress management skills help you stay off the merry-go-round because it helps you minimize the amount of stress you experience. A good night’s sleep helps, too.
Sleep Deprivation and Accidents
Employers who expect employees to come to work well-rested are frequently disappointed; sometimes tragically so. When car accident investigators rule out alcohol-related car crashes, almost twenty percent of the serious car crashes are associated with driver sleepiness. If we were able to measure sleep deprivation as easily as we measure alcohol intoxication, driving while sleep-deprived would be illegal. Under test conditions, adults deprived of a night’s sleep were found to be as impaired in their ability to stay in their lane while driving on a closed course as someone with a blood alcohol rating of .07 percent.
Other research has shown that partial sleep deprivation has a cumulative effect and can easily add up to the equivalent of the loss of a full night’s sleep. Individuals who sleep six hours or less per night had performance deficits that, when measured, were the equivalent of losing two full nights of sleep! The worst part was that they were oblivious to their performance deficits—they felt fine because the way they felt was their normal.
Sleep deprivation is pervasive. A study of nearly 80,000 individuals reported that 26% did not get enough sleep on fourteen or more days out of the past 30 days. The individuals reporting inadequate amounts of sleep also reported a lower quality of life, lower levels of functioning, and worse health.
Tired employees have turned into a CEO or even a President’s living nightmare on more than one occasion. The lives lost and the economic impact of sleep deprivation are enormous. Two nuclear reactor meltdowns (Chernobyl and Three Mile Island), naval tragedies (when the Star Princess and the Exon Valdez oil tanker ran aground), the explosion at the chemical plant in Bhopal, India are all tied to sleep deprivation.
Work-related accidents are highly correlated with fatigued workers. In a study with 7,000 participants, tired workers were 70% more likely to be involved in accidents than their well-rested counterparts. In a 20-year study of 50,000 individuals, those whose sleep was disturbed were almost twice as likely to die in a work-related accident or be in an accident. Although parenting a new-born, a child who is ill, having an illness that disturbs our sleep or a partner who disturbs our sleep are unavoidable situations, when our response to them considers the potential consequences of sleep deprivation, we can achieve better overall outcomes.