Sleep and Its Impact on Our Work: Part 5 – Sleep Deprivation and Safety

5 mins read

This article looks into the impact sleep deprivation has on safety in the workplace.

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 a few hours of sleep could be putting yourself at higher risks and diminishing the quality of your work.

Let’s explore how sleep deprivation can affect our safety at work. This is the 5th and final part of 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? Safety is the 4th of 4 areas that may be directly affected by our sleep that will impact our work life:


Most of us have experienced some of the symptoms that come with sleep deprivation, or sleep loss. That scary moment when you nod off for a second while driving, or you’re supporting your head on your elbow at your desk and it slips when you nod off making you believe the world is about to end. While some consequences of sleep deprivation are more detrimental than others, it is not worth the risk of safety to yourself or others.

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To see the possible catastrophic results of human error caused by sleepiness we can look back at tragic past events such as the Exxon Valdez oil spill, which was attributed to an overtired crew making a tragic error and leading to an environmental disaster. As stated previously, consecutive hours of wakefulness show behavioural changes that are equivalent to being drunk from alcohol, so it is not surprising that our safety, and the safety of others at work are at risk when we are experiencing sleep deprivation.

Here is a 3 minute video explaining the affects sleep deprivation has on workplace safety:

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.

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