Sleep and Its Impact on Our Work: Part 4 – Sleep Deprivation and Mental Health

5 mins read

This article looks into the impact sleep deprivation has on mental health.

We hear it all the time, it just doesn’t seem like there are enough hours in a day. Because of this there is an ongoing internal struggle almost all of us experience: do I sacrifice sleep for work, or sacrifice work for sleep? There is also always the third option… COFFEE! Being in a society based on work and productivity, it’s more often that work will be chosen at the expense of a proper night’s rest. While this is a personal decision that each person is free to make, there is a great deal of research that shows sacrificing sleep could also mean sacrificing productivity, your mental health, physical health, and safety. Sleep is truly an essential part to our wellness, and our wellness directly affects our work. Missing out on just a few hours of sleep could be putting yourself at higher personal and professional risk.

Let’s explore how sleep deprivation can affect our mental health and the impact on our work. This is part 4 of 5 in our series on “Sleep and Its Impact on Our Work”.

How can sleep deprivation effect our work?

According to Matthew Walker, a professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, once we get past about 16 hours of wakefulness, we start to see mental and physiological deterioration in the body. After we’ve been awake 19-20 hours, our “mental capacity is so impaired that you would be as deficient as someone who was legally drunk behind the wheel of a car”! Essentially, to Matthew Walker, wakefulness past a certain point could be considered a form of low-level brain damage. So, what exactly are we damaging in our work life if we are not repairing the impairment of our wakefulness?

Mental Health

Not getting enough sleep can cause a profound shock to your feelings and moods. Beyond the more subtle mental effect such as irritability and lack of focus, some of the more drastic psychological effects include memory loss, paranoia, hallucinations and mania – all of which could highly impact your performance at work!

One of the most detrimental mental consequences of not getting enough sleep in a night is the increased development of a toxic protein called beta amyloid. This neurotoxin is associated with Alzheimer’s disease, and it is during deep sleep at night that our brain takes out the garbage, meaning the more sleep we are missing, the more this protein is building up. The more of this protein that is building up, the higher our risk is of developing dementia later in life. To put this into perspective of working, the earlier this impaired cognitive function begins, the earlier we will be unable to carry out our basic functions at work, a scary yet very real thought.

When in Doubt, Sleep it Out

The facts are clear: better sleep is better for business. Whether you want to improve productivity, mental and physical health, or workplace safety, better sleep is a great place to start! While adjusting to a new nighttime and/or morning routine may be difficult, the rewards are far greater. We challenge you to evaluate your current sleep routine and decide the areas you can improve on. By improving the quantity, quality, and regularity of our sleep patterns, we will all be able to see an improvement not just within our work, but our lives in general. So hey, when in doubt, sleep it out!

If you would like to watch more of Mathew Walker, here is a 19 min Ted talk on his sleep research.

Next up in our 5 part series on Sleep and Its Impact on Our Work is Part 5 – Sleep Deprivation and Safety.

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