It’s well-known that a lack of sleep impacts our health. Chronic sleep deprivation can lower your body’s defenses, putting you at greater risk of illness, mood disorders and weight gain. We also know a lack of sleep can wreak havoc on productivity, causing us to be less attentive, make more mistakes, process information more slowly, miss or misinterpret social and emotional cues and impair decision-making.
Yet, despite all the research on the harmful effects of a lack of sleep, 30 percent of Americans still get less than the recommended amount of sleep. New research by Pennsylvania State University associate professor of biobehavioral health Orfeu M. Buxton says our 9-to-5 work hours may be to blame.
Buxton and colleagues researched whether sleep quantity and quality would improve when employees were given more control over their work time. They followed 474 employees, half of whom were allowed to work flexible hours, deciding when and where they worked – at the office, from home, or elsewhere – while still logging in the same number of work hours as those who maintained a rigid work schedule.
Those who had flexible work schedules not only felt they had better control over their time but they also slept an average of eight minutes more each night (nearly one hour more per week).
Related: 7 Ways to Take Your Sleep Back
Lack of Sleep Impairs Productivity and Leadership Ability
A lack of sleep, Buxton says, makes it harder for us to stay on task and can impair our memory, accuracy and affect our leadership abilities.
“We’re less vigilant. We make more mistakes and we’re slower in our cognitive output,” says Buxton.
A lack of sleep can also cause us to take more risks and impair our decision-making as we over-appreciate potential positive outcomes and underappreciate the potential negative outcomes, and can impair our social skills, negatively affecting leadership and teamwork capabilities.
“People who are sleep deprived are less able to detect the correct nonverbal expression on another’s face,” says Buxton.
This can cause you to view others as being negative towards you, even though this may not be the case. In teamwork situations where nonverbal communication plays a key role, this misinterpretation can create unnecessary tensions in the group and lead to a negative result.
Calling for Flexibility in the Workplace
Buxton says the study’s results point to a need for a culture shift in organizations toward a provision for greater flexibility and a change in mentality from a focus on congratulating those who burn the candle at both ends to an appreciation of the benefits of sleep.
“It used to be that if you slept, you were considered weak and unambitious,” says Buxton. “Only the sleep deprived, or those who were willing to subject themselves to extremes of sleep loss and claimed tireless efforts [were celebrated].”
How many times have you seen someone lauded for their "tireless efforts?" “I don’t want that,” says Buxton. “I want someone to not make mistakes.”
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