Sleep Deprivation and Productivity in the US

Senior (College 4th year) ・Business ・APA ・6 Sources

Business success now depends on the productivity of the employees. Various studies have shown that sleep deprivation is a significant issue that influences workers' productivity. Thus, companies need to understand how lack of sleep can harm their employees and business productivity in general. This will allow the organization to develop better policies to promote a sufficient amount of sleep amongst employees. A study conducted by Rand Corporation (2016), sleep deprivation among U.S workers leads to $411 billion losses due to productivity decline annually. Also, 1.23 million working days are wasted yearly because of the lack of sleep (Rand Corporation, 2016). This is a serious problem that has to be addressed immediately. This paper examines how sleep deprivation affects productivity.

Causes of Sleep Deprivation

Before exploring how sleep insufficiency affects productivity, it is essential to examine how the problem comes about in the first place. According to Broman, Lundh, & Hetta (1996), the causes of insufficient sleep in the general population are work-related factors and lack of time to sleep. Research done by Rand Corporation (2016) categorizes the sleep deprivation causes into two; sleep disorders, and lifestyle related. However, the organization recognizes that sleep deprivation is frequently caused by multiple factors at the same time. Therefore, it is not possible to attribute insufficient sleep to one specific cause.

Lifestyle-related causes of sleep deprivation include aspects such as stress and irregular sleep schedules. Individual choices to limit sleep time in order to pursue other activities or consume stimulants before bed time contribute to great to sleep deprivation in the general population. In addition, work commitments, particularly those experienced by business travelers and shift workers also to contribute sleep deprivation. At the workplace, unrealistic time pressures, as well as stress, can have adverse effects on sleep. Other lifestyle-related issues that can cause sleep deprivation include hygiene, sleeping habits, and school demands and schedules.

Sleep conditions such as narcolepsy, insomnia, and sleep apnea, make up the second category of sleep deprivation causes. While insomnia affects up to 30% of people, there has also been a prevalence of sleep apnea in the U.S. Other medical conditions that affect sleep include colds and tonsillitis. Also, psychological conditions such as anxiety and depression contribute to insufficient sleep.

Although these causes have contributed immensely to sleep deprivation in the general public, Rand Corporation (2016) notes that recent developments in the society have aggravated them. The changes in the society have led to decreases in the amount of sleep taken by the general population because they have exacerbated the causes examined above. In particular, increase in shift work and longer working hours have been major contributors of sleep deprivation among people. New technology also like smartphones, computers, and the internet has provided entertainment and distraction that that continue to eat away time reserved for sleep (Rand Corporation, 2016). Understanding these factors leading to sleep deprivation is the first step to understanding the effects and possibly finding solutions to the problem.

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Effects of Sleep Deprivation on Productivity

Various studies have linked sleep deprivation to deleterious effects on one’s safety, personal health, and cognitive performance. According to Thomas, et al. (2000), insufficient sleep is one major contributor to catastrophic failures and accidents in a number of real-world circumstances including vehicular accidents and military friendly fire incidents. In regards to productivity, the effects of sleep deprivation can be looked at from three angles; increased mortality, impaired cognitive performance, and negative effect on skills accumulation by adolescents.

Increased mortality

The deaths associated with sleep deprivation have an effect on the members of the population who can be productive. A decrease in the number of working people means lower productivity both at the organizational and at the national level. Insufficient sleep increases the risk of death in the general population. In this regard, there are some studies that sought to find the relationship between sleep deprivation and mortality. For example, a research study by Cappuccio, D’Elia, Strazzullo, & Miller (2010), found that individuals who get below 6 hours of daily sleep are 12% more likely to experience early death. As such, there is a direct link between short sleep and premature death. Another finding by the study shows that long sleep duration is also not right. According to the authors, oversleeping can signify fatal illness in an individual. With 1.3 million participants examined for up to 25 years as well as the reviewing of 16 prospective studies from the U.S., the UK, East Asian, and European studies, Cappuccio, D’Elia, Strazzullo, & Miller (2010) offer substantial evidence linking sleep deprivation to mortality. Mortality affecting working-age population has a great impact on productivity. Deaths of members belonging to the working age population mean manpower is reduced in organizations. Such reduction not only affects the productivity of the organization, but it also affects the national productivity of a country. Therefore, it is deductible, that sleep deprivation can affect the economy negatively.

Another study by Grandner, Hale, Moore, & Patel (2010) also sought to find out the link between the duration of sleep and mortality. From the study, they developed pathways through which insufficient sleep may cause mortality. First, just like in Cappuccio, D’Elia, Strazzullo, & Miller (2010), the authors associated short sleep directly to mortality. An example is when lack of sleep causes fatal car accidents. Secondly, the authors found that short sleep may cause physiological or physical changes that can result in increased mortality risk. For example, in the case, insufficient sleep leads to behavioral or hormonal changes that can contribute to reduced productivity or gain in weight. Such changes elevate the mortality risk of a person. Finally, according to Grandner, Hale, Moore, & Patel (2010), short sleep is related to other factors that are associated with mortality risk. For example, short sleep may be associated with age, which in turn is indirectly linked to mortality. As seen, there are aspects of sleep deprivation that can cause mortality. As mentioned earlier, increased in mortality has a direct influence on the productivity of both the organization and the economy.

Impaired Cognitive Performance

The productivity of employees depends greatly on their alertness and cognitive performance. When prolonged periods of illness or reduced performance at work due to sleep deprivation, it can affect negatively labor efficiency. As demonstrated by Killgore et al. (2008), insufficient sleep can have adverse effects on several cognitive abilities. According to the authors, the cognitive abilities that can be influenced by sleep deprivation range from uncomplicated attentiveness to higher-order cognitive functions. Without enough sleep, impairment can occur in various of an individual’s cognitive abilities including attention, vigilance, alertness, and concentration. Higher order cognitive functions like decision-making, inhibitory control can also be adversely affected by sleep deprivation.

In order for individuals to work properly, proper judgment is essential. According to Killgore et al. (2008), the emotional intelligence abilities of a person such as interpersonal skills and self-awareness contribute to better adjustment. With the lack of sleep affecting these abilities, the productivity of people is likely to be reduced. An area of the brain that is sensitive to sleep deprivation is the prefrontal cortex (Killgore et al., 2008). The area integrates cognitive and emotional information to facilitate decision making. Prolonged sleep deprivation affects how the prefrontal cortex works, which in turn leads to impaired decision-making ability. Therefore, insufficient sleep can affect one’s productivity through limiting decision-making ability.

Another study by Christian & Ellis (2011) sought to find out how sleep deprivation influences workplace deviance. Workplace deviance is behavior by employees in the workplace that go against organizational norms. Such behaviors threatens the organization’s well-being as a well as that of its members. Given that lack of sleep can affect human functioning negatively, measures of mood, motor, and cognition can collapse. Christian & Ellis (2011) conclude that sleep deprivation can lead to increased hostility and loss of self-control. Such behaviors cannot allow an individual to perform as required at the workplace. Therefore, productivity is also affected negatively. Hostility and lack of self-control not only affects the performance of the subject, but it also influences how others are doing since it is usually in the same work environment.

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Negative Effect on Skills Accumulation by Adolescents

The adolescents and young adults are part of the future workforce. When they experience sleep deprivation at a younger age, their skills development is affected. This can lead to skills deficiency in future that will eventually affect labor efficiency. According to Owens (2014), sleep deprivation in young adults and adolescents is a serious threat to their safety, health, as well as academic success. The prevalence of unhealthy sleeping behaviors such as electronic media use, irregular sleep patterns, and high caffeine usage can lead to poor academic performance, obesity, car crashes, and even suicidal ideation (Owens, 2014). Apart from biological process and influence of electronic media, Owens (2014) puts forward school start times as another factor that influences the performance of students. Delays in school start times, in particular, lead to less daytime sleepiness and consequently more learning (Owens, 2014).

When young adults and adolescents get enough sleep, their ability to learn increases. As such, their skill development becomes consistent with the requirement of the labor force. However, sleep deprivation can limit the ability of young adults and adolescents to gather the necessary skills needed in the labor force. Shortage of such skills in the future can mean a decline the productivity of the economy.


Given that organizations rely on the performance of employees to meet their objectives, concerns that reduce the workforce productivity are important. Various studies have linked sleep deprivation to lower productivity. Sleep deprivation is caused by lifestyle-related as well as medical factors. Studies show that sleep deprivation causes increased mortality, impaired cognitive performance, and poor skills accumulation by young adults and adolescents. Understanding the extent to which sleep deprivation can influence productivity is important to both the business and the government. With its adverse effects examined above, it is clear that sleep deprivation is a serious problem that has to be addressed immediately.

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Broman, J. E., Lundh, L. G., & Hetta, J. (1996). Insufficient sleep in the general population. Neurophysiologie Clinique/Clinical Neurophysiology , 26 (9), 30-39.

Cappuccio, F., D’Elia, L., Strazzullo, P., & Miller, M. (2010). Sleep duration and all-cause mortality: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies. Sleep , 33 (5).

Christian, M. S., & Ellis., A. P. (2011). Examining the effects of sleep deprivation on workplace deviance: A self-regulatory perspective. Academy of Management Journal , 54 (5), 913-934.

Grandner, M. A., Hale, L., Moore, M., & Patel, N. P. (2010). Mortality associated with short sleep duration: the evidence, the possible mechanisms, and the future. Sleep medicine reviews , 14 (3), 191-203.

Killgore, W. D., Kahn-Greene, E. T., Lipizzi, E. L., Newman, R. A., Kamimori, G. H., & Balkin., T. J. (2008). Sleep deprivation reduces perceived emotional intelligence and constructive thinking skills. Sleep medicine , 9 (5), 517-526.

Owens, J. (2014). Insufficient sleep in adolescents and young adults: an update on causes and consequences. Pediatrics , 134 (3), 921-932.

Rand Corporation. (2016). Why sleep matters — the economic costs of insufficient sleep: A cross-country comparative analysis. Santa Monica: Rand Corporation.

Thomas, M., Sing, H., B. G., Holcomb, H., Mayberg, H., Dannals, R., et al. (2000). Neural basis of alertness and cognitive performance impairments during sleepiness. I. Effects of 24 h of sleep deprivation on waking human regional brain activity. Journal of sleep research , 9 (4), 335-352

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