The Truth: Sleep-Deprived Organizations are Inefficient

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Did you get enough sleep last night? 

Around one-third of Americans didn’t. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 3 U.S. adults regularly sleep less than the recommended amount per night. For organizational leaders, that can spell real trouble not only for their own performance, but also the performance of the teams and employees they manage. Because inadequate sleep leads to lower overall brain function, leaders operating on a sleep deficit are prone to poor decision-making and a reduced ability to exercise patience and empathy. Not getting enough sleep is a surefire way to diminish both productivity and team morale. 

WHOOP recently partnered with McKinsey’s Executive Leadership Program in Australia to further explore the relationship between sleep and brain function in the workplace, and what we uncovered was remarkable. Listen to WHOOP Podcast 131: Understanding Stress and How it Affects Sleep Performance & Cognitive Functioning to learn more. 

“For every 45 minutes of sleep debt accrued, a person experiences a 5–10% decrease in mental control the following day,” said Nadia Fox, Ph.D. candidate at the University of Queensland. “On the flip side, we found that for every 30 minutes of deep REM sleep gained, mental control increases by 5–10% the next day.” 

For context, “sleep debt” is the difference between the amount of sleep that someone needs and the amount of sleep that they actually get. “Poor sleep” can be a single night of sleep deprivation or fragmented, unconsolidated sleep that prevents a person from moving into reparative deep sleep cycles. Sleep debt is cumulative. Poor sleep is circumstantial. Poor sleep quality contributes to sleep debt. 

The higher the sleep debt, the lower the brain function, and the decline continues until proper consistent rest is attained. And though sleeping in on the weekends might trick your brain into feeling fully recovered, you can’t make up for lost sleep in that way. Research has shown that it can take up to four days to recover from one hour of sleep lost.

But the brain is an adaptive organ. If a person has experienced poor sleep the night before, simply responding to the question “How well did you sleep?” with “I slept OK” will help the person to perform better. Even with sleep deficits, the mind is tricked into coping. 

However, mind tricks only go so far — lower overall cognitive functioning does in fact lead to lower performance. Without sleep, the brain struggles to work properly. And even those that think they can train their bodies to function just as well with less sleep can’t. In a study published in the journal Sleep, participants who cut their sleep to six hours a night suffered the same decreases in cognitive function and reaction time as people who went two full nights without sleep. The study found they did not adapt to their new sleep schedules and were generally unaware of their poor performance.

A lack of sleep reduces a person’s attention span, as well as their learning, processing, and critical thinking abilities. REM sleep is critical for broader memory consolidation, and without it, building and retaining memories is difficult. A lack of quality sleep can lead to impaired cognitive flexibility, judgment, creativity, and decision-making — meaning individuals and teams are often more likely to have trouble with complex problem solving, presenting to clients, and following instructions. In fact, simply struggling to stay awake can cause sweeping problems for thinking. In extreme cases, a lack of sleep was found to induce effects that are similar to being drunk. 

A leader is in no condition to perform when their functioning is on par with that of an intoxicated person. 

To counter sleep debt, people will often reach for caffeine to gain a superficial energy boost. Caffeine increases energy and reduces sleepiness, but it cannot replace proper sleep. It also won’t help sleep-deprived people perform higher-level tasks any better. In fact, caffeine is virtually ineffective in mitigating the effects of sleep deprivation on cognitive performance.

WHOOP Unite™ helps organizations master sleep, and thus, team performance. There are several key ingredients that go into a good night’s sleep, and WHOOP helps track all of them.

  • Sleep consistency, including bedtime and waketime: WHOOP is third-party validated to accurately track sleep, including the amount of time spent in each sleep stage. The app’s Sleep Coach monitors circadian rhythm and uses that information to recommend exactly how much sleep one needs, as well as when to go to bed and wake up in order to maximize sleep consistency for the highest-quality sleep possible. 
  • Nutrition and exercise: Eating and intense activity should cease three to four hours before bed to avoid excessive body functioning like digestion or blood sugar spikes while asleep. The WHOOP Journal personalizes the nutrition and exercise tracking experience by offering a wide range of more than 100 behaviors to choose from within several categories, so users can see the effects their choices have on their sleep. 
  • Naps: Short sleep sessions are a great way to help reduce sleep debt and improve alertness. With WHOOP, users can track these shorter bursts of sleep in order to reduce any debt accumulated. 

Coach employees toward improved stress management, higher-quality sleep, and better health with WHOOP Unite. The health and wellness solution supports businesses in building a culture of engagement and care, improving employee health, and optimizing performance. Proactively identify individuals and teams with poor sleep performance so leaders can take action.

Want to gain a better understanding of how WHOOP Unite can positively impact employee performance at your organization?

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