How Does Your Sleep Schedule Affect You at Work? How to Get Quality Sleep

Learn how to improve your sleep quality for work productivity.

Too often, when life gets busy with work, school, family, or other obligations, sleep is the first thing to go. Working late into the night is worn like a badge of honor — especially in the fast-paced workforce of the United States. But this perspective on work affects the quality of your work immensely.

Sleep plays a significant role in every aspect of your life. Lacking it can make you irritable, slow your thinking, and make it hard to cope with day-to-day challenges. Learn about the costs of sleep deprivation, and how to catch up on it if you’re not getting enough.

Lack of sleep in the U.S. 

Your mental health suffers from a lack of sleep as well; sleep deprivation can cause depression and increased anxiety.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “seventy million Americans suffer from lack of sleep.” This is highly alarming, especially considering the impact lack of sleep has on your mind and body, such as obesity and other health problems.

Your mental health suffers from a lack of sleep as well; sleep deprivation can cause depression and increased anxiety.

Of course, not everyone has the freedom to sleep every night. Certain workers aren’t allowed to have control of their schedule, such as nurses, first responders, or those in the military. These “high-risk” jobs are often high-stress as well. Ensuring you get the care you need to cope is crucial for anyone, but it is especially important if you work graveyard shifts.

Symptoms of sleep deprivation and how it affects your job

Suffering from sleep deprivation simply means you are not getting enough sleep. This could be from a single night or many nights over a period of time. According to the National Institute of Health, “Nearly 40% of adults report falling asleep during the day without meaning to at least once a month.” This kind of statistic doesn’t bode well for anyone attempting to boost productivity or improve performance at work.

Symptoms of sleep deprivation include

1. Trouble thinking or “brain fog”

Most have experienced “brain fog” at some point in life. And while anxiety, medication, or pregnancy, can play a factor, it is often caused by a lack of sleep. Trouble thinking at work can lead to missing vital details, running late, or making mistakes that could put someone in a dangerous situation.

2. Short attention span

A short attention span will destroy your productivity. When you are short of sleep, your brain slows down due to a lack of energy, making it difficult to focus on your task at hand. Your mind may wander, or you may find yourself unable to solve problems.

3. Memory issues

Skipping out on much-needed sleep may be why you forgot about that meeting last week or that you were supposed to go to lunch with your coworkers. 

Memory is crucial in the workforce, regardless of your career field or position in the company. The ability to remember what you’re supposed to do and how to do it can be the defining factor of whether or not you can achieve your next career goal.

4. Trouble making decisions

Plenty of decisions take time and careful deliberation. However, if you’re sleep deprived, your ability to make decisions in a crisis will quickly deteriorate the longer you stay in sleep debt. 

Not getting enough rest can put those in high-stress jobs and others in dangerous situations. For example, if a first responder’s decision-making abilities have been slowed, they may not be able to assess the situation clearly, leading to choices that could put people’s lives at risk. 

5. Lack of energy

The most common mantra in the workforce today is, “Thank goodness it’s Friday! I’m so tired!” 

Unfortunately, this has become so common that most don’t consider it an issue. Lack of energy can have other causes, but at its core, it’s caused by sleep deprivation. 

6. Mood swings

Due to the impact sleep has on your brain and emotions, mood swings are not uncommon. When your brain lacks the energy it needs, it has a harder time keeping the part of your brain that controls your emotions (the amygdala) in check. This is why your tolerance level may lower late into the night.

How much sleep should you be getting?

The amount of sleep needed depends on age and health; for women, it can be affected by PMS or pregnancy. As a rule, the CDC recommends 7 to 8 hours (without frequent waking) every night for adults. Sleep needs change as you near retirement age, but those in the workforce should do everything possible to get 7 to 8 hours of rest within every 24-hour period.

Sleep needs change as you near retirement age, but those in the workforce should do everything possible to get 7 to 8 hours of rest within every 24-hour period.

How to catch up on sleep with a busy schedule

Sleep deprivation can have devastating effects on both your work and home life. Learning how to catch up and develop good sleeping habits is essential to improving your job performance and getting back to enjoying your work. 

Catching up on sleep takes time. It can take days to correct, depending on how long you have gone on little to no sleep. The Sleep Foundation suggests you increase the amount of sleep you get each night by 15-30 minutes until you reach the right amount for you. Not much else can reverse the effects of sleep deprivation. Still, if you allow your body to rest properly, it will heal itself in most cases.

How to improve your sleep quality and stay out of sleep debt

The simple answer is to, of course, go to bed earlier. But that’s not always possible and, therefore, not great advice. At the very least, sticking to a consistent sleep schedule can help.

Avoid stimulates

Another way to improve your sleep is to pay attention to what you eat. Avoiding stimulates like caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine can help you fall asleep and stay asleep easier.

Limit naps

Limiting afternoon naps can also help. Naps give you an energy boost which you may need from time to time, but doing this too often can mess with your sleep schedule and make it hard to sleep later on.

Create a sleep-friendly environment

Crank the AC up if you struggle to sleep. Going to bed in a cool, dark room can help your brain calm down before sleeping. If you work a night shift, black-out curtains are a great investment in your sleep hygiene efforts.


If you struggle to ease your thoughts at the end of the day, journaling can be a great tool to use. 

Write down everything that goes through your mind for a few minutes before bed. This could be the day’s events, to-do lists for tomorrow, or anything else that comes to mind. The point is to give your thoughts a place to go, so they no longer bounce around in your mind.

Talk to your doctor

Insomnia symptoms affect around 33% to 50% of adults, according to Cleveland Clinic. If you struggle to sleep, don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor about your symptoms. Treatment may include medication, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and other options. 

Your ability to get the sleep you need for work and home life should never be up for debate.

Sleep is crucial

Sleeping is one of the most important and productive things you can do. And while sleeping on the job isn’t advised, striving to get the right amount of sleep each night is crucial. 

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