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Ashridge Faculty Studies the Business of Sleep

Ashridge faculty

Does sleep deprivation impact business and are working professionals really suffering sleep debt? That’s the question that Vicki Culpin, a faculty member at Ashridge Executive Education, set out to answer in her latest research paper.

The reality is that we live in a global 24/7 world. Busy professionals can find themselves working longer days, facing increasing pressure to perform, working across time zones simultaneously, dealing with international travel and working according to shift patterns. The problem is that all of these things contribute to sleep loss. Worse yet, as we’ve become increasingly technology dependent, we’ve interrupted our sleep with artificial lighting at night.

To find out how all of these things affect a person’s sleep and thus their work productivity, Culpin conducted a survey of working professionals. Here’s what she found.

Quality and Quantity of Sleep

According to the American Academy of Sleep Science, a healthy adult requires a minimum of seven hours of sleep. Yet, those who took part in the survey only managed six hours and 28 minutes on average. And the more senior a person was in an organization, the less sleep they typically achieved.

Work Performance

So, how did this affect their job performance? “Many of the working professionals who completed this survey reported that they were affected by sleep loss, particularly when engaged in tasks that required sustained attention,” Culpin explained in thein the research. “From the 30 aspects of cognitive behavior assessed in the research, the results indicate that the executive control functions of decision-making, creativity, processing, adaptability, learning and control of emotions, performed by the pre-frontal cortex within the brain, are all highly impacted by sleep loss.”

Social and Emotional Life

And outside of the workplace, performance was affected as well. The majority of respondents claimed that sleep loss most affected their way of communicating with others. They said it made them less flexible and willing to interact with challenging colleagues. Basically, “the research suggests that employees may socially withdraw when experiencing sleep deprivation.”

Physical Health

Physical health was also widely affected by sleep deprivation. According to the survey, 77 percent of respondents claimed higher levels of stress and 61 percent reported feeling anxious.

Business Impact

Finally, in the end, all of this goes back to impacting business. While corporations are demanding more than ever from their employees, it may be harming them in the long run. “It is common for managers and colleagues to look at a lack of focus or motivation, irritability, and bad decision-making as being caused by poor training, organizational politics or the work environment. The answer could be much simpler–a lack of sleep,” said Culpin.

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About the Author


Kelly Vo    

Kelly Vo is a writer who specializes in covering MBA programs, digital marketing, and personal development.

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