Wake-Up Call for Managers: Impact of Sleepiness on Human Behaviours at Work

October 4, 20168:27 am682 views

We don’t sleep enough—on average 6-½ hours a night. Sleep researcher Professor Vicki Culpin discovered this in a major survey based on over 1,000 employees. According to the American Sleep Association, healthy adults aged 20 to 60 years of age need an average of between 7 and 9 hours of sleep a night to stay healthy.

Culpin found there were several other effects of a lack of sleep besides frequent headaches or a susceptibility to colds—and these led to the following problems at work: difficulty interacting with colleagues, concentrating in meetings, or limited social skills.

Likelihood of making riskier decisions

“For some people, their ability to make decisions slows down,” explains Culpin, in a press release. Because they don’t assimilate every piece of information rationally, they tend to make riskier decisions. This could be seen both in human resource professionals who usually enjoy taking risks and among those that tend to be risk-averse.

This situation is aggravated by the fact that people suffering from lack of sleep tend to have more confidence in such a risky decision, regardless of whether it is right or wrong. On the whole, staffs lower down the hierarchy reported worse impairments than those in higher management positions.

“Lack of sleep is not only an issue for employees who are dealing with the greatest level of pressure and stress. It is a company-wide problem—across all levels from junior colleagues’ right up to the CEO.”

Managers boast of ability to get by on little sleep

“It may be that more junior people are more prepared to talk openly about the effects of poor sleep because they do not regard it as career suicide,” presumes Vicky Culpin. She also concluded that more senior people are perhaps a little savvier in disguising the effects or they are just ashamed to talk about it.

To this day, many managers boast of their ability to get by on little sleep—such as Marissa Mayer from Yahoo, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, or U.S. Presidential Nominee Donald Trump. At the same time, top executives such as Arianna Huffington claim a good night’s sleep is their recipe for success.

Against this background, human resource professionals are increasingly interested in sleep as an item on their corporate health agenda. Whilst sleep deprivation may be thought of in the domain of army training or as a method of torture, it takes relatively little sleep loss to lead to a range of cognitive and behavioural changes that will directly impinge on the ability of an individual to effectively carry out their role.

See: Productivity and Performance Efficiency Killer: Are You Deprived of Sound Sleep?

Statistics on Sleep

  • Managers spend on an average fewer than seven hours asleep at night and this further decrease as the job seniority increases.
  • Over 80% individuals wake up at least once during the night, taking approximately 15 minutes to fall back to sleep.
  • The length of time taken to fall back to sleep once awake increases with job seniority – CEOs take an average of 30 minutes to fall asleep after each time they wake.
  • 50% of the sample felt tense when trying to fall asleep and 30% report that they feel ‘bad’ when they wake in the morning.
  • 72% of managers noted that they found it difficult to concentrate on tasks because of lack of sleep.

A reduction in sleep by only 1½ hours per night for one night alone can result in a decrease in daytime alertness by 32%. As a leader, are you creating a work environment that encourages long hours based on the assumption that long hours create greater productivity?

17 hours of sustained wakefulness (for example a long day at work) has been shown to result in changes in some behaviours equivalent to drinking two glasses of wine. If that wakefulness becomes 24 hours (for example a long flight) then the individual is performing with the equivalent of having drunk four glasses of wine (blood alcohol level of 0.1%)1 ; with potential changes in speech, motor functioning, levels of aggression and impulsiveness, memory, decision-making and problem-solving.

A study found sleep quality to impact upon absenteeism, levels of work performance, personal relationships and physical health amongst white collar workers. A good night’s sleep is one that is uninterrupted, with few awakenings and should leave you feeling refreshed and alert during the day. Therefore, it is simply not just a matter of how much sleep at night an individual achieves, but also the quality of that sleep.

How to maintain patterns and monitor sleep?

  • Maintain a fixed bedtime and wakening time
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine 4-6 hours before bedtime
  • Avoid heavy, spicy or sugary foods 4-6 hours before bedtime
  • Exercise regularly but not directly before bed
  • Keep the room well ventilated and ensure an appropriate temperature
  • Block out all distracting noise and eliminate as much light as possible
  • Reserve the bed for sleep
  • Try a light snack before bed (e.g. warm milk and foods high in the amino acid tryptophan, such as bananas)

Also read: Great Tips to Manage Shift Workers

Image credit: fightingpcs.com

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