How Sleep Affects Job Performance: A HealthCentral Explainer

ATsai Editor
  • The quality of our sleep pervades so many parts of our lives, but one of the most important is our work performance. Not only do we need to get enough sleep to function during the day, but we need to be alert and able to perform complicated mental and physical tasks.


    Here are ways sleep and other variables may affect our work life.


    Are new moms too sleepy for work?

    New moms may be returning to work too early, as most women can still be quite sleepy four months after giving birth, according to a recent study published in PLoS One. The study looked at sleep patterns and tiredness in new moms  and found that despite the mother reporting stable sleep times at 18 weeks, they continued to report excessive sleepiness.

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    Researchers looked at 33 healthy moms, who recorded their sleep patterns in 15-minute increments during weeks six, 12 and 18 after a birth. They found that although new moms were waking up an average of twice a night to attend their babies during those weeks, their total sleep time was still seven hours and 20 minutes. But the disrupted sleep still took a toll on the daily function of the mothers. Experts say government officials need to take this into account when developing regulations and parental leave policies.


    Daylight in office promotes better sleep

    Office workers with more light streaming through their windows experience longer sleep duration, better sleep quality and more physical activity, which leads to overall better quality of life, compared to workers with less light exposure.


    The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, looked at 49 day-shift office workers, of which 27 worked in windowless workplaces and 22 worked in places with windows. Quality of life and sleep quality was measured through self-reported forms  and light exposure, physical activity and sleep were measured with actigraphy in a subset of 21 participants from both groups. Actigraphy is a device worn on the wrist that measures light exposure, activity and sleep.


    Results showed that employees who  worked in places with windows received 173 percent more white light exposure during work hours  and slept an average of 46 minutes more per night, compared to those employees who did not have natural light exposure. Windows also seemed to be linked to more physical activity.


    Astronauts don’t get quality sleep

    For an astronaut, job performance may impact their life or the lives of their crewmates, which is why getting adequate sleep on a space mission is very important. But recent research shows that astronauts are not getting quality sleep three months prior to a mission and through the duration of the mission in space.  The problems arise because astronauts cannot get away from light and noise essential to the space craft’s function. In addition, the sun rises and sets every 90 minutes, making it difficult to get sleep.


    The research, from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston  looked at 65 astronauts on 80 shuttle missions and 21 astronauts on ISS missions before, during and after spaceflight. They recorded more than 4,000 nights of sleep on Earth and more than  4,200 in space. For the study, researchers had the astronauts wear an actigraph, which records sleep and wake cycles, in addition to self-reported evaluations from daily diaries.


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    Astronauts are allotted 8.5 hours of sleep in their rigid schedule, but researchers found they were getting an average of 5.96 on shuttle missions and 6.09 on International Space Station (ISS) missions. They also found that astronauts on shuttle missions achieved seven hours of sleep 42 percent of the time while they were sleeping at home after the mission, while those from ISS slept more than seven hours 50 percent of the time. But  when they were in space, they  attained this level of sleep only 12 percent and 24 percent of the time, respectively.


    To make up for this, many astronauts use sleeping pills, such as zolpidem and zaleplon, while in space, but experts are concerned that this could jeopardize the astronaut’s performance in the event of an emergency.




    Queensland University of Technology. (2014, August 5). "Study finds new mums still excessively sleepy after four months." Medical News Today. Retrieved from


    Northwestern University. (2014, August 12). "Daylight in your office improves sleep, physical activity and quality of life." Medical News Today. Retrieved from


    Ellis, M. (2014, August 8). "Astronauts' sleep deficiency in space could affect performance." Medical News Today. Retrieved from



Published On: August 14, 2015