The Cost of an Exhausted, Sleep-Deprived Workforce

The end-of-the-year rush is upon us. Squeezing in final 2019 meetings, holiday parties and gift-giving adds a lot of stress to our already hectic schedule.

Unfortunately, a critical aspect of workplace health is often ignored, especially in these busy times.


Sleep deprivation is a growing health epidemic for adults in the US.

70% of adults report they obtain insufficient sleep (6 hours or less) at least one night a month, and 11% report insufficient sleep every night. 

Our workforce is in a chronic state of exhaustion and we’re all paying the price.

It’s A Matter of Life and Death

Every aspect of our health is impacted when we don’t get enough sleep.

Sleep scientist and author Matthew Walker, describes in his book Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreamshow lack of sleep:

  • inhibits our ability to learn and make new memories and contributes to cognitive and memory decline
  • increases our risk of heart attack, suicide, car accidents, and cancer
  • limits our immune system’s ability to fight off sickness and disease

A person who sleeps on average less than six hours a night, has a 13 percent higher mortality risk than someone who sleeps between seven and nine hours.

More Consequences and Costs

Our health isn’t the only thing that suffers when we don’t get enough sleep.

As leaders, our work relationships and productivity takes a hit.

Christopher M. Barnes, associate professor of management at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business, conducted research on leaders and sleep and found:

  • sleep-deprived leaders were more impatient, irritable, and antagonistic, resulting in deteriorating relationships
  • sleep deprivation diminished managers’ ability to inspire and motivate those around them
  • leaders who discounted the value of sleep negatively impacted not just emotions but also behaviors on their teams 

Economically, some estimate lack of sleep costs the United States $411 billion in lost productivity.

Healthy Sleep Habits

Fortunately, we can point to research and proven interventions that improve our sleep habits.

  • Mindful meditation is shown to help adults fall asleep and stay asleep. Two popular apps, Calm and Headspace offer easy to digest content ranging from building a mindfulness practice, to relaxing guided sleep meditations and sleep stories.
  • Follow a consistent bed/wake time. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Even the weekend and vacations.
  • Sleep in a cool room, 65 degrees Fahrenheit or cooler. Our bodies need to drop an internal temperature of 2-3 degrees to initiate and stay asleep.
  • Turn screens off. At least 1 hour prior to bedtime, dim overhead lights and shut off all screens. If that’s not possible, activate blue light filters.
  • Avoid caffeine after 1 pm.
  • No alcohol, large meals or exercise 3 hours before bedtime.
  • Nap before 3 pm to avoid messing up your sleep cycle. 

A sleep-deprived workforce is unproductive, costly and unhealthy. Leaders who prioritize sleep know quality rest is not a luxury for some; it’s a necessity for all.


Marta Steele is a Partner at PeopleResults who aims for 8 hours of sleep each night. Connect with her on Twitter @MartaSteele.