Does a lack of sleep really damage productivity?

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None of us feel great when we haven’t slept well but the common belief that poor sleep results in poor performance may not be the case.

A study by a team from the University of Toronto looked into how sleep deprivation affects the performance of surgeons and the results are not what you might expect.

The study, headed by Dr Nancy Baxter discovered that surgeons who worked a nightshift and then performed elective surgery actually saw a minimal increase in performance compared to those assumed to have enjoyed a good night’s sleep.

According to the findings, reported by Reuters, the chance of a surgery-related problem was 22.2 per cent for the sleep-deprived surgeons and 22.4 per cent for those who had slept.

The study of 147 Ontario hospitals and almost 39,000 cases performed by 1,448 surgeons, did not take into account the actual amount of sleep that the two groups had managed; including the night-shifters who may have had some sleep.

A separate study undertaken by sleep expert Dr. Charles Czeisler in Boston found that sleeping less than 6 hours resulted in a 170 per rise in the number of surgeons who experienced problems during surgery.

The Toronto study may have found that highly-skilled surgeons may still be able to perform at a high standard without a complete night’s sleep however neither study suggests that the same would be true for all workers.

In fact, the University of Cambridge and Rand Europe carried out analysis of 21,000 workers earlier in the year and found that employees who slept for six hours were significantly less productive than those who had managed seven or eight hours.

Robson Forensic, experts in industrial safety, also reported that sleep-deprived workers are 70 per cent more likely to be involved in a workplace accident and those reporting poor sleep and extreme tiredness during the daytime are more than twice as likely to die in a work-related accident.

Robson’s experts say that any shift that incorporates more than 8 continuous hours, requires more than 5 consecutive days of work, or requires work during the evening should be considered extended or unusual.

In noting that there are times when business needs will require changes to a ‘normal’ working week the experts suggest that additional breaks should be allowed and sufficient numbers of workers should be available to ensure that those breaks can be taken.

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