7 Ways Sleep Deprivation Is a Career Killer

woman sitting at her desk looking tired with hands on her temples

Acute or chronic sleep deprivation affects more than just your personal life (or the number of coffees you need the next morning to get going). Lack of sleep can have significant consequences to your professional life and, over time, can hold you back from achieving your goals. Yes, it’s just that serious.

One of the best things you can do for your career is to get a good night’s sleep. If not, you run the risk of experiencing...

1. Poor Memory

Recent research published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology drives home just how serious sleep deprivation is to one’s ability to complete tasks or, in particular, remember things. The research team, who conducted what’s now the largest controlled study on sleep deprivation ever, found a marked increase in errors and memory lapses in those people who were sleep deprived, compared to their well-rested counterparts. “Operating with reduced cognitive capacity has wide-ranging effects,” the study’s author said. Sleep deprivation can be a debilitating and even mentally incapacitating trigger in the workplace that renders you unable to complete your job duties successfully and fully.

2. Bad Mood

Sleep deprivation can have serious effects on your mood and overall state of mind or sense of well-being. Evidence suggests that people who are sleep deprived often struggle with anger or irritability, at the very least, and, in some more serious instances, can experience more troublesome conditions such as anxiety or depression. Feeling hostile, frustrated, anxious, or depressed at work obviously has a negative impact on your professional performance and can hold you back from achieving your full potential.

3. Weakened Immune System

Lack of sleep takes a toll physically by weakening your immune system over time and making you more vulnerable to things like a cold or the flu. Not to mention the potential sick days you might have to take off work to manage illness, if you’re persistently in poor health and struggling to keep up with your peers while running on little sleep, your overall performance at work is bound to suffer.

4. Low Productivity Levels

Sleep-deprived employees are, research suggests, significant less productive than their well-rested colleagues. Sleep deprivation can lead to a lack of focus or the ability to complete tasks, poor critical or creative thinking, low stamina and motivation, and in general an inability to adequately meet the demands of your job (forget trying to exceed them on little sleep).

5. Reduced Work/Life Balance

Oftentimes sleep-deprived employees are too tired or unfocused during normal working hours that they have no choice but to bring their work home with them and complete their tasks in traditionally “off” hours, blurring the lines between professional and personal and potentially creating tension between the two. What’s more, when workers are inclined to manage their sleep deprivation this way by bringing uncompleted work home, this added workload tends to exacerbate their sleep deprivation, causing the whole thing to start over the next day. A vicious cycle indeed.

6. Strained Workplace Relationships

Healthy interpersonal relationships with your colleagues, managers, team members, employees, or direct reports are key to professional success, long-term growth, and job satisfaction. If you show up to work each day sleep deprived, the emotional and psychological toll this takes can affect the way you interact with the people around you. In short, if you’re constantly irritated, annoyed, depressed, or distracted at work because of being over-tired, your relationships with colleagues will undoubtedly suffer.

7. Big Mistakes

As the study cited above reports, “Every day, approximately 11 sponges are left inside of patients who have undergone surgery. That’s 4,000 potentially dire missteps each year and an example of a procedural task gone terribly wrong that can result from sleep deprivation.” You don’t have to have a high-stakes job -- like being a surgeon or airline pilot, where each day you have the lives of many people resting in your (hopefully well-rested) hands -- to suffer the consequences of a major mistake. Sleep-deprived employees are more likely than well-rested ones to make critical mistakes on the job, mistakes that could have dire consequences to your career, but that could also have a wide-reaching impact on those around you depending on your role and your industry.

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