ARTICLE: “Stop Productivity Loss from Physiological Factors” Part III

(Part III in the series discusses factor number six of six physiological factors affecting productivity: sleep).

6. Sleep

How much sleep do you think the average adult gets per night? A March 2001 National Sleep Foundation (NSF) poll of 1000 adults found that 1/3 get less than 7 hours per night and only 1/3 are getting the recommended 8 hours per night. In 1910, the average adult got nine hours of sleep per night, because without electricity, people generally when to sleep as darkness fell.

John Shepard, medical director of the Mayo Clinic Sleep Disorders Center, says that most adults need between 7 ˝ and 8 ˝ hours of sleep per night, teens need 9 hours and 15 minutes, and small children need more. 

The NSF poll showed that 85% of people would sleep more if they were convinced it would contribute to a healthier life. So here are some statistics to convince you:

* The Foundation reported that drowsy workers are costing U.S. employers an estimated $18 billion annually in lost productivity. If you add in errors, damage, and health consequences, the costs are even higher. 

* Overall, the quality of work, the amount of work, and your concentration EACH decline by 30% when you’re sleepy. 

* A lack of sleep affects your personal life too. Among those having sleep problems, 77 percent also said they had less marital satisfaction. 38% of married respondents said they have intimate relations with their spouse less than once a week because of fatigue and lack of time.

* 75% of people reported to experience daytime sleepiness and 36% believe that feeling very sleepy in the afternoon is normal. However, sleep experts tell us that daytime sleepiness is NOT normal, if you are getting the correct amount of sleep for your needs. You need a good night’s sleep on a regular basis. 

* Studies show that sleepiness impairs memory, reaction time, and alertness. Tired people are more moody, less patient with others, and less interactive in relationships. 

* Too little sleep also suppresses your immune function, which leads to increased infection and illnesses.

* Getting inadequate sleep also causes problems similar to drinking too much alcohol. Nodding off at work isn’t just unproductive; it can be disastrous. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that sleepy drivers cause at least 200,000 crashes each year. The 1989 Exxon Valdez Alaskan oil spill, for example, was reportedly due at least in part to the severe fatigue of the tanker’s sleep deprived third mate. The Challenger accident, Chernobyl, and Three Mile Island accidents were also due to worker fatigue. In rats, prolonged sleep deprivation resulted in death. (Although we haven’t had any volunteers for that study in adults yet!)

The bottom line is that sleeping well is not a luxury…it’s a necessity. 

However Americans tend to under sleep by choice, burning the candle at both ends due to hectic work and family schedules. The average workweek today is 46 hours, and 40 percent of adults are working 50 hours or more a week. We feel we can have more time for work and family by allowing ourselves less time for sleep. But we do sleep—at work, driving to and from work—in a state of stupefied sleepiness. Sacrificing sleep is actually counterproductive.

The Mayo clinic defines an adequate amount of sleep as whatever produces daytime alertness and a feeling of well-being. You shouldn’t need an alarm clock to wake you up if you are getting enough sleep. 

So take the One-Week Sleep Challenge! I have compiled the results of hours and hours of research I’ve done on getting good sleep. Here is what I’ve found. If you do this for ONE week, you will be a new person, I promise!

The One-Week Sleep Challenge

1. Awaken at the same time every day, including weekends. If you sleep late on Saturday and Sunday morning, you’ll get Sunday night insomnia and you’ll be a wreck on Monday. Instead, go to bed and get up the same time every day. 

2. Get as much bright light as possible (preferably out of doors) during your desired wake time to reset your body’s clock. If you’re getting sleepy too early, force yourself to be in bright light.

3. Take a 20 to 30-minute walk every day out of doors, even if it’s cold. Try to walk in the morning before work to get a jump-start on your day! Physical activity enhances the deep, refreshing stage of sleep.

4. Avoid or limit caffeine (coffee, tea, soft drinks), nicotine, and alcohol. Herbal tea in the afternoon is okay. Caffeine and nicotine can keep you from falling asleep, and alcohol causes fitful sleep and frequent awakenings.

5. Don’t nap in the daytime, which steal from nighttime slumber. If you HAVE to nap, limit your sleep to 20 minutes.

6. Use your bedroom only for sleeping and intimate relationships. Do not use your bedroom as an office, to read, to eat, or to watch TV.

7. Start bedtime preparation NINE hours before desired wake time. You are going to sleep for a total of EIGHT hours each night this week.

* One hour before bedtime, end your day (nine hours prior to your waking time). Spend the time before bed in relaxing, non-alerting activities such as light reading, listening to classical music, taking a warm bubble bath, meditating, writing in a journal, and drinking a small glass of warm milk and honey.

* Don’t eat or drink a lot before bedtime. Make sure you finish your dinner about 2 hours before sleeping.

* Keep your room slightly cool and quiet.

* Complete your bedtime rituals, then lie down, close your eyes and enjoy sleep onset. 

* If you find you have trouble sleeping, get up and go to a different room and relax until you are sleepy. Then go back to bed. Do NOT engage in any work or stimulating activity. Repeat this procedure until you fall asleep. Do not agonize about not falling asleep; the stress only makes it worse and prevents sleep. No matter how little you slept, make sure you wake up at the same time every day. Hang in there! By the third day, you’ll be on your way to a new level of energy during the day.


Create an action plan for yourself! Decide which of the six physiological factors you most need to most improve: 

1. Exercise
2. Diet
3. Working environment
4. Noise level
5. Leisure
6. Sleep

Make a commitment to work on one of these areas for the next three to six weeks to change your habits in that area, and then select another area to work on. Keep working on yourself until you are no longer affected by a lack of productivity related to your own self-induced physiological factors!

© 2001 Laura Stack. All rights reserved. You are free to use portions of this publication in your company newsletter, provided the following credit is listed at the bottom:

Laura M. Stack, MBA, CSP, is “The Productivity PRO,”® helping people leave the office earlier, with less stress, and more to show for it. She presents keynotes and seminars on time management, information overload, and personal productivity. Contact her at 303-471-7401 or visit her website at