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Sleep Deficits Slow Work Performance

Sleep Deficits Slow Work PerformanceAre you the type that can get by with less than eight hours of sleep a night? Do you believe your work performance is the same after a night of less than ideal sleep?

New research finds that even if you believe you do not feel tired, a lack of sleep can influence the way you perform certain tasks.

Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) published their findings in the online edition of The Journal of Vision.

“Our team decided to look at how sleep might affect complex visual search tasks, because they are common in safety-sensitive activities, such as air-traffic control, baggage screening, and monitoring power plant operations,” said Jeanne F. Duffy, Ph.D., M.B.A., senior author on this study.

“These types of jobs involve processes that require repeated, quick memory encoding and retrieval of visual information, in combination with decision-making about the information.”

In the study, researchers collected and analyzed data from visual search tasks from 12 participants over a one month study.

In the first week, all participants were scheduled to sleep 10-12 hours per night to make sure they were well-rested. For the following three weeks, the participants were scheduled to sleep the equivalent of 5.6 hours per night, and also had their sleep times scheduled on a 28-hour cycle, mirroring chronic jet lag.

In the experiment, participants were given computer tests that involved visual search tasks. Computer software recorded how quickly the participants could find important information, and also how accurate they were in identifying it.

The researchers report that the longer the participants were awake, the more slowly they identified the important information in the test.

Additionally, during the biological night time, 12 a.m. -6 a.m., participants (who were unaware of the time throughout the study) also performed the tasks more slowly than they did during the daytime.

“This research provides valuable information for workers, and their employers, who perform these types of visual search tasks during the night shift, because they will do it much more slowly than when they are working during the day,” said Duffy.

“The longer someone is awake, the more the ability to perform a task, in this case a visual search, is hindered, and this impact of being awake is even stronger at night.”

As the research evolved, the accuracy of the participants stayed the fairly constant although they were slower to identify the relevant information as the weeks went on.

While individual’s perceptions of the effects of sleepiness increased only slightly during the second and third weeks on the study schedule, researchers discovered that they were performing the visual search tasks significantly slower than in the first week.

This finding suggests that someone’s perceptions of how tired they are do not always match their performance ability, Duffy said.

Source: Brigham and Women’s Hospital

Man sleeping photo by shutterstock.

Sleep Deficits Slow Work Performance

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Sleep Deficits Slow Work Performance. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 2, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 30 Jul 2012)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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