Around 30% of all Americans are sleep-deprived, according to the CDC. While we already know that this habit is linked to heart disease, obesity and diabetes, a new study is warning us that reducing your sleep time by just 16 minutes can risk your health and safety at work. The study, undertaken by researchers at the University of Florida, found that this amount of time shaved off a worker’s bedtime resulted in a greater likelihood of poor judgement and of falling off task the following day.

When 16 Minutes Are Priceless

The study looked into the habits of 130 healthy employees who worked in I.T. Some of the consequences of sleeping for 16 minutes less included higher stress, a feeling of having a worse work-life balance, and changed sleeping hours. That is, those who were sleep deprived were fatigued and had to go to bed earlier the following evening, resulting in earlier waking in the morning. The researchers warned that obtaining the required seven to nine hours of sleep a night is key for employees wishing to function optimally at work. Sleep deprivation not only increases distraction, but also causes personal stress, potentially leading to conflicts at work. The study also found that the consequences of sleep deprivation on one given night are worse when one has to work the next day (i.e. the consequences are not as pronounced on weekends).

Sleep And Cognitive Functioning

As mentioned above, sleep deprivation – even when minimal – affects focus and concentration. Another recent study by researchers at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, found that chronic sleep deprivation produces a fivefold increase in attention lapses, and increases reaction times twofold. Interestingly enough, people who were sleep deprived did not believe their alertness was affected by this fact, yet the results of tests indicated otherwise.

It’s Not Just About The Numbers

If you are getting eight or nine hours sleep, you may think you are hitting the jackpot, but sleep quantity is just one piece of the puzzle. The second is sleep quality. The National Sleep Foundation insists that to enjoy good sleep quality, you need to tick a few boxes. These include falling asleep within half an hour of getting into bed, waking up no more than once during the night, and being awake for no longer than 20 minutes after first falling asleep. If you wake up various times during the night or toss and turn frequently, you may not reach the restorative phase of deep sleep, which you need to do if you want to feel refreshed and alert at work the next day. To achieve good quality sleep, ensure your bedroom space is up to scratch. It should be dark and cool. Your bed, meanwhile, should be firm enough for your sleeping position to avoid pain and fatigue. Mattress reviews and expert opinions should be able to match you up to the right bed. If you sleep on your back, for instance, firmness is key. If you sleep on your side, your mattress should support all pressure points in your body so as to avoid shoulder and hip pain in the morning.

Keep Your Stress Levels Down

Stress and sleep work in a cycle. When you are highly stressed at work, sleep quality and quantity can be impossible to achieve. On the other hand, sleep deprivation increases stress. Both should be viewed from a holistic perspective. Employees and managers wishing to give the most at work should make stress reduction a priority, embracing techniques like controlled breathing and mindfulness meditation to avoid being in ‘fight or flight mode’ chronically. Sleep should also be prioritized by establishing a strict bedtime routine, limiting gadget use at night, and avoiding stimulants such as caffeine in the afternoon and evening.Just 16 minutes less of sleep can have a big difference on your work performance. Not only does sleep deprivation affect your working memory and focus, but also potentially hampers your relationships with colleagues. Ensure you set up a relaxing bedtime routine and create an optimal ambience for sleep. Finally, start seeing stress reduction as a necessary investment in your health, rather than a luxury.

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