Sleepiness Is Hurting Your Work Performance [Study]

sleep deprivation work sleepiness

Sleepiness is no fun for anyone at work, but a new study proves that being exhausted on the job is detrimental to your work output.

Sleepiness was the recent focus of a study by researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, who sought to determine whether sleep affected speed of work as well as the accuracy of tasks performed during work time. In the study, participants were allowed 10 to 12 hours of sleep during set times, and then at others, were sent to work with just five and a half hours of sleep.

In addition to sleepiness induced by abbreviated sleep patterns, a simulation of jet lag was induced by forcing a 28-hour sleep cycle. Jeanne Duffy, an associate neuroscientist at Brigham and Women’s and senior author of the study, explained in a news release about the study:

“Our team decided to look at how sleep might affect complex visual search tasks, because they are common in safety-sensitive activities, such as air-traffic control, baggage screening and monitoring power plant operations… These types of jobs involve processes that require repeated, quick memory encoding and retrieval of visual information, in combination with decision making about the information.”

sleep deprivation and work

Monitoring during “sleepiness” times was done through computer tasks, so both speed and accuracy could be measured. And after being deprived of sleep, participants did not waver in accuracy so much — but speed of the task being carried out slowed significantly after sleep deprivation. Duffy explains:

“This research provides valuable information for workers, and their employers, who perform these types of visual search tasks during the night shift, because they will do it much more slowly than when they are working during the day… The longer someone is awake, the more the ability to perform a task, in this case a visual search, is hindered, and this impact of being awake is even stronger at night.”

The study was published in Journal of Vision in the July 26th edition online.