Six Surprising Ways Sleep Deprivation Disrupts Your Employees’ Lives

14 June 2022

Sleep Deprivation Can...

  1. Make Learning Much Harder
  2. Devastate Productivity
  3. Make You More Anxious and Depressed
  4. Increase Your Risk of Heart Disease
  5. Make You Gain Weight
  6. Increase Your Risk of Type 2 Diabetes

Feeling "on" and productive at work provides intrinsic reinforcement and promotes belonging and joy in the workplace.

Have you ever noticed that when workplace productivity dwindles, you can sense employee morale has as well? Evidence suggests that the primary concern might be your employees' sleep. 1

So why look at sleep first? Why not just recruit the ultimate "superhuman?" The answer is that sleep is what gives humans their "superpowers" like sharp cognitive functioning, optimal physical health, and unflappable mental health. These "powers" make for a quality of life that influences work performance.

A full night of sleep makes your employees happier, more physically well, more able to take on feedback and tackle challenging problems, and more creative. As a result, when your employees are at their peak, your company benefits with lower healthcare costs, more outstanding performance, improved morale, and improved innovation. All of these improvements are benchmarks that lead to a higher employee retention rate.2

Not sure if your company has a sleep problem? Sleep deprivation has skyrocketed from 36% of the population to 50% of people since the COVID 19 pandemic.3 Those numbers only reflect people with clinically severe sleep problems. Before COVID, the estimate for people who struggled with sleep every.single.week was 66%, which in the midst of a pandemic is likely much higher.

There are myriad ways poor sleep is hindering your health. Curious to learn more? Take a closer look at the six ways sleep deprivation disrupts work and some easy solutions you can implement today to help.

Sleep Deprivation Makes Learning New Information Much Harder

A lack of sleep prevents your brain from making new memories. During deep sleep, new information goes into the hippocampus (the area of the brain responsible for storing long-term memory) and is then moved from the hippocampus into the neocortex, the area of the brain where scientists believe memories are stored, thereby making room for new information. Similar to the hard drive of a computer, the hippocampus doesn't have unlimited storage, so information transfer is critical to make room for new information

After a full night of sleep, the hippocampus is ready to receive new information, which makes learning possible.4

However, when sleep is cut short, the information doesn't effectively move into the neocortex, which means you forget the information you just learned and are unable to receive new information you want to learn.

Studies show people who are sleep-deprived remember 60% less than people who get ample sleeps.5 To put that in context, that's the difference between failing an exam or acing it.

What does this mean for productivity at work?

This means that when an employee is sleep-deprived, they're not taking in any new information. The latest product updates, customer feedback, or "that one imperative deadline" all "bounce off the inbox." They can't effectively retain this information. The experience is stressful, and productivity dwindles.

Fortunately, studies show that even increasing sleep from 6 hours per night to 8 hours results in a 400% improvement in cognitive performance.6

Sleep Deprivation Can Make You More Anxious and Depressed

To understand why this happens, we have to know how stress works. A part of the brain called the amygdala (which is the part of our brain that helps us perceive a threat) gets triggered when we sense danger. When this happens, we release cortisol and adrenaline. Our blood pressure goes up, our breathing quickens, and our focus is laser-sharp. We're ready to respond to the threat. After the threat disappears, our heart rate drops, our breathing returns to normal (homeostasis), and we can relax our focus.

When we're sleep-deprived, the amygdala becomes overactive. One study found that sleep-deprived participants had an amygdala that was overactive by 60% 7 compared to the well-rested group. Overactive activity in the amygdala leads to a number of negative health ramifications, including stress, anger, and anxiety.

Anxiety and sleep impact one another. Anxious feelings make it more difficult to fall asleep, and the subsequent sleep deprivation feeds anxiety causing a horrendous vicious cycle.

Sleep Deprivation Increases Risk of Heart Disease

Remaining in a state of panic makes us anxious and also harms physical health. Stress that is supposed to disappear persists, and cortisol, as well as adrenaline levels, remain high. When these two chemicals persist, it's harmful to heart health, causing our arteries to constrict and our blood pressure to rise. If blood pressure remains high over time, this can lead to heart disease.

Thankfully, sleep is our great physician. Put simply, the reason we sleep is to heal. Every system of our body improves after a night of rest, including the cardiovascular system. During deep sleep, the brain calms the fight-or-flight system branch of the body's nervous system, turning off the panic alarm. This causes a cascade of healing effects on the heart, lowering blood pressure and subsequently decreasing the risk of heart attack, heart failure, and stroke. Sleep also lowers your heart rate.8 Sleep lowers blood pressure each night similarly to blood pressure medication, with the added benefit that sleep does so without any side effects.9

Without sleep, the opposite happens. The cardiovascular system remains stressed, resulting in high blood pressure.

Even sleeping as little as 6 hours raises your blood pressure significantly and increases your risk of heart disease by 45%.10

Sleep Deprivation Can Make You Gain Weight

Sleep and food provide us with the energy we need to fuel our day. In addition, sleep is beneficial for maintaining or even losing weight as feeling energized encourages people to eat less and be more active.

When we're tired, we crave energy. Carbohydrates, and especially carbohydrates from refined sugar rapidly supply us with energy, and become a go-to choice for tired individuals. The trouble with sugar is that it provides energy for a minuscule amount of time followed by the lethargy of a "sugar crash." This leaves you in need of another "pick me up." We refer to this as the "sleep deprivation- craving cycle."

Studies show that sleep deprivation can result in eating 600 more calories per day11, which if maintained, amounts to a 60 lb weight gain annually!

In addition to eating more, when tired, people typically move less. Feeling lethargic is the antithesis of feeling energized and hinders your motivation to exercise.

Thankfully, sleep helps you control cravings and make healthier choices, as it enables optimal functioning of the prefrontal cortex, which is the area of the brain responsible for planning and "willpower."12

Sleep Deprivation Increases Your Risk of Type 2 Diabetes

To make matters worse, the "sleep deprivation- craving cycle" we covered above may lead to elevated blood sugar that can have devastating effects on health, including diabetes.

Studies show that insufficient sleep makes you 56% more likely to develop type 2 diabetes.13

So How Can You Support Your Employees?

As you can see, it's time to take action to improve your employees’ quality of life and, subsequently, their work. It doesn't take a Herculean effort or millions of dollars to make these changes. Sleep is something we do each night, so it just means enabling your employees to prioritize their sleep

At its simplest, recommending that your employees wind down from work by bedtime to allow 8 hours of sleep is a great start. But, remember, managers and leaders have to do their part to remove late-night deadlines when it's not urgent.

And if you're interested in taking more control of your employees' well-being and your company's productivity, Chorus Sleep provides a path forward. Chorus provides sleep coaching and tools to improve your employees' sleep and resulting health and offers reporting and training materials for your managers to empower them to unlock the best in their teams and organizations.

Chorus improves sleep in over 80% of its participants and teaches employees and managers ways they can make the changes to improve their sleep.

Want to learn more? Check out our employers portal here.

Want to learn more? Get in touch with us at [email protected]

1 Rosekind, M. R., Gregory, K. B., Mallis, M. M., Brandt, S. L., Seal, B., & Lerner, D. (2010). The cost of poor sleep: workplace productivity loss and associated costs. Journal of occupational and environmental medicine, 52(1), 91–98.
2 Shonna Waters, PhD. (2022 January 14). Increase your employee retention rate (and prevent turnover). Retrieved from
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