Six Surprising Ways Sleep Deprivation Disrupts Your Employees’ Lives and How You Can Help

April 14, 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.

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

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 can make your employees happier, more physically well, more able to take on feedback and tackle challenging problems, and be more creative. As a result, when your employees are at their peak selves, 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 was probably 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.

Make Learning New Information Much Harder

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. In other words, a lack of sleep prevents your brain from making new memories.

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. This can look like a time when you tried reading and kept having to reread the same paragraph over again with hopes of comprehension.

Studies show people who are sleep-deprived remember 60% less than people who get ample sleep.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?

Employees are not taking in new information when they're sleep deprived whether it's the latest product updates, customer feedback, or that one imperative deadline. They all bounce off the inbox. They can't effectively retain this information. The experience can be stressful, and productivity often dwindles.

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

Can Make You More Anxious and Depressed

To understand why stress 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 and releases cortisol and adrenaline. Next, 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, meaning our fear response is turned up along with anxiety. 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 that impacts sleep, including stress, anger, and anxiety. Anxious feelings make it more difficult to fall asleep, and the subsequent sleep deprivation feeds anxiety causing a horrendous vicious cycle.

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 (physically and mentally). 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 by lowering blood pressure and subsequently decreasing the risk of heart attack, heart failure, and stroke. Sleep lowers blood pressure each night similarly to blood pressure medication, with the added benefit that sleep does so without any side effects.8 Sleep also lowers your heart rate.9

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

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

Can Make You Gain Weight

When we're tired, we crave energy, and both sleep and food provide us with the energy we need to fuel our day. Carbohydrates for example, and especially carbohydrates from refined sugar, rapidly supply us with energy and become a go-to choice for tired individuals.

The trouble with sugar (of all sorts) 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 being energized and hinders your motivation to exercise.

The benefits of sleep are seen in maintaining, or even losing weight since feeling energized encourages people to eat less and be more active.

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

Risk of Type 2 Diabetes Increases

To make matters worse, the "sleep deprivation-craving cycle" (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

How Can You Support Your Employees?

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 to your employees to wind down from work before 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 improves sleep in over 80% of its participants and teaches employees and managers ways they can make the changes to improve their sleep.

In short, Chorus provides sleep coaching and tools to improve your employees' sleep and health, and offers reporting and training materials for empowering your managers to unlock the best in their teams and organizations.

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
3 Robillard, R, Dion, K, Pennestri, M-H, et al. Profiles of sleep changes during the COVID-19 pandemic: Demographic, behavioural and psychological factors. J Sleep Res. 2021; 30:e13231.
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13 Francesco P. Cappuccio, Lanfranco D'Elia, Pasquale Strazzullo, Michelle A. Miller; Quantity and Quality of Sleep and Incidence of Type 2 Diabetes: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Diabetes Care 1 February 2010; 33 (2): 414–420.