Can you perform better at work after a good night's sleep?

Working long hours is not delivering better results, Eugene McGarrell discusses the solution.

Growing up in the UK I remember being impressed that our Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher only slept for 4 hours a night. The culture of my workplace in the 1980’s was dominated by long hours at work and late nights networking in a local establishment.

We have come a long way since then, right? I am not so sure.

How often do we get the reply “busy” when we ask a colleague how they are? It’s almost a badge of honour to be in back to back meetings and emailing our boss and colleagues at midnight. The busier we are, the more important we feel we become.

But that’s just it, we feel important but are we really performing at our highest level?

Athletes perform at their highest level when they train hard, when they eat well and when they get enough rest. Sure, we need to work hard but is that the same as working long hours? Of course it isn’t.

We perform better when we rest, eat and exercise. It’s not rocket science, we know it’s true yet we work ourselves to the ground. We plan days of back to back meetings, we come in early and leave work late and we stay on line to respond to urgent emails.

Of course we are now in a world where both partners are working. Often it’s the woman that has to handle the school pick-ups, the day care arrangements and the homework. She is the one that has to “make excuses” for coming in “late” and “leaving early”. Her career is sacrificed because she is unable to fulfil the expectation of organisations for people to work long hours.

Working long hours is not delivering better results. We need to be refreshed and alert throughout our work day. It’s by being “refreshed and alert” that we are more likely to make smart decisions and deliver better results.

So what’s the answer? It’s a good night’s sleep of course.

That’s not as easy as it sounds. It needs the commitment of the workplace and the commitment of the individual to change engrained behaviours.

As a leader it is our responsibility to build a culture that supports positive sleep behaviours of their people. As an individual we are responsible for embedding positive sleep hygiene life styles.

We know that poor sleep over time increases the risk of mental illness, PTSD and chronic physical disease. Cultures that use stress as a motivator will get the best out of people in the short term. However, this is just a “sugar hit” which will lead to high turnover of people, high levels of unplanned absenteeism and poor performance returns in the medium term.

If you are interested in learning more about sleep and the impact on the workforce please email the HACE Team and they will forward you the research report.