26th Nov, 2020 Read time 5 minutes

4 negative effects sleep deprivation can have on your worker’s health and safety

Our previous articles on sleep have touched on the importance of managing it from a health and safety perspective in your workers and what you can do to help encourage your staff to get enough of it. Today we take a look at 4 of the dangerous negative effects sleep deprivation can have on workers and why you should be on the lookout for them when managing the health and safety of your workplace. 


1. Increased risk-taking behaviour at work 

Being able to gauge the risk and associated reward of situations is one of the key skills associated with health and safety and other professions. It is very important in more safety-critical environments such as factories, oil rigs, and construction sites. 

There have been studies that suggest an increase in sleep deprivation can lead to a subsequent increase in risk-taking behaviour. On a macro level, this has the potential to increase the risks and frequency of dangerous accidents. The study from Killgore, Kamimori, and Balkin (2011) looked at the effects of sleep deprivation and caffeine consumption on risk-taking behaviour. Their findings suggested that the propensity for risk increased but the change was not evident to the subjects of the study. 

“nights of total sleep deprivation led to a significant increase in behavioural risk‐taking but not the self‐reported perception of risk‐propensity.” 


2. An increase in the number of errors 

As a result of the increase in risk-taking behaviour can often be an increase in the number of errors an individual makes. The danger here not only lies in the obvious and immediate errors that can endanger life, but also the increased frequency of smaller errors which often become contributing factors to major incidents when analysed in accident investigations. 

In the study from Shoka, Papanna, and Mousailidis (2018) is was found that after sleep deprivation there was a noticeable increase in medical errors in health care environments, especially during night shifts. 


3. A drop in the quality and frequency of communication 

Good communication is essential in any industry but it can mean the difference between life and death in health and safety. Sleep deprivation has been shown by a number of studies to reduce the quality of an individual’s communication through impairment of some vital areas. 

A recent research paper from Holding et.al., (2019) has linked sleep deprivation to a drop in linguistic comprehension. The added reduction in concentration levels also has the potential to reduce the quality of communication. That being said the study did make clear that the effect of poor sleep on actual communication remains unknown.


4. Increased risk of distraction 

Have you ever noticed your ability to concentrate is impaired after a poor night’s sleep? If so you are not alone. Sleep deprivation and generally poor quality sleep can result in a serious increase in your propensity to be distracted. This is bad for your safety in the workplace and also your productivity. 

In a study from Eti et. al., (2015) sleep deprivation was tested with the help of some volunteers and an MRI scanner. Some subjects were shown distracting images after experiencing sleep deprivation. The results showed that those with sleep deprivation were “specifically unable to ignore neutral distracting information after sleep deprivation”. This can have big implications on how workers perform from a safety standpoint in the future. 


What can we do to reduce the negative effects of sleep deprivation? 

As shown there are a number of associated risks with sleep deprivation that can spell danger for the health and safety of workers. When it comes to managing sleep deprivation there are few different strategies to take. Try reading nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol consumption. This coupled with increased exercise has been shown to increase the quality of sleep. As shown sleep is very important, which is why we are so passionate about the subject. If you do not sleep well, you will likely not be able to perform your job well from a health and safety perspective. 

In the next installment of our sleep awareness series, HSE Network talks to Teambuilding expert Dan Collins of Freshtracks to talk through strategies that can help you improve your quality of sleep and the speed at which you are able to get to sleep. 



Killgore, W.D., Kamimori, G.H. and Balkin, T.J., 2011. Caffeine protects against increased risk‐taking propensity during severe sleep deprivation. Journal of sleep research, 20(3), pp.395-403.

Shoka CLA, Papanna B, Mousailidis G. Sleep deprivation in healthcare professionals and medical errors: how to recognize them? Sleep Med Dis Int J.

2018;2(1):15‒16. DOI: 10.15406/smdij.2018.02.00034

Holding, B.C., Sundelin, T., Lekander, M. and Axelsson, J., 2019. Sleep deprivation and its effects on communication during individual and collaborative tasks. Scientific reports, 9(1), pp.1-8.

Simon, E.B., Oren, N., Sharon, H., Kirschner, A., Goldway, N., Okon-Singer, H., Tauman, R., Deweese, M.M., Keil, A. and Hendler, T., 2015. Losing neutrality: the neural basis of impaired emotional control without sleep. Journal of Neuroscience, 35(38), pp.13194-13205.

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