03rd Jan, 2021 Read time 4 minutes

How sleep deprivation can mimic Intoxication at work

Thankfully the culture of boozy lunches followed by working with machinery are well behind us.  The afternoons when alcohol boosted confidence but impaired judgement, reaction times and situational awareness were commonplace in the 1970s and 80s, nowadays even the most liberal employees are likely to condemn the lunchtime pint.

Average sleep duration has decreased from 8 hours to 6 over the past 50 years

While our attitude to booze at work has improved, another, equally deadly threat has increased.  And it’s affecting more than half of us, even those clean-living folks who stay clear of all intoxicating substances.  The average time asleep has reduced from 8 hours to under 6 hours over the past 50 years.

 A study in Australia using driving simulators discovered that after being awake for 19 hours, sober people were as impaired as those who were well-rested but twice over the alcohol limit.  Put simply, a person stepping on stage to give an important presentation having flown from LA to New York is likely to be as off their game as someone who has drunk a bottle of wine.  Apply this to those operating machinery, making critical decisions and working with sensitive data and the colours on the risk matrix are likely to move to red.

“Drunk – being in a temporary state in which one’s physical and mental faculties are impaired” 

Particularly concerning is that a combination of caffeine and our ego can fool us into thinking we are not impaired, whilst our ability to assess risk is in fact reduced.  An extreme example of this was the aircraft engineer who was killed when his car left a dual carriageway at 4 am.  The post mortem discovered he’d been using amphetamine to stay awake through his night shifts.

Air travel, until recently, has been a guilty party in the world of fatigued working but even in these post jet setting times many people report sleeping less than six hours each night.  Shift work, especially nights is known to have long term health consequences, more recently home working is proving equally toxic for some.  

Use of electronic devices in bed is especially disruptive, not as was previously thought because of the blue light they emit.  More troublesome is the stimulating content that leads to a heightened state of alertness when our minds should be winding down for sleep.  Add to this stress and we are more likely to find ourselves wide awake at 2 am with racing thoughts.

Our altered routines which blend work and home life appear to improve quality of life, yet this flexible lifestyle may be causing sleep problems that could very well shorten our lives.  Psychiatrists report that in every instance of significant mental illness, there is a pre-existing sleep condition.  So, it could be argued, if we can fix sleep we can increase our immunity to mental illness.


 “Sleep is critical for our cognitive health and, if you want a workforce that is creative and can solve problems, then the brain that has slept will be far superior to the tired brain.”   Prof Russell Foster, Oxford Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute


Are you getting enough sleep? 

Getting enough sleep may sound simple but there are a few different ways to tell if you are not getting the rest you need at night.

  • Feel irritable during the day
  • Prone to dozing when sitting still
  • Overly impulsive behaviour
  • Dependent upon an alarm to wake

If any of these is true for you, some simple lifestyle changes could improve your sleep quality, enhance your performance and safeguard your physical and mental health.

Tips for Better Sleep

Whilst getting the right amount of sleep may seem challenging in the evenings there are a few things that you can do to help improve your chances of getting a good night’s sleep.

  • Spend time outdoors during daylight
  • Stay hydrated during the day, reduce liquid intake in the evening
  • Make the bedroom a haven, don’t work, exercise or eat in the room where you sleep.
  • In the hours before sleep wind down with dimmed lights, a warm bath, reading a book
  • Avoid alcohol, electronics, heavy meals, work, and conflict in the hours before bed
  • Go to bed at a time that enables you to wake naturally without an alarm in the morning
  • Invest in comfortable nightwear, linen, and a good mattress


About the author

Dan Collins helps companies grow by improving their people’s performance. Dan has developed a keen interesting in the subject of sleep and how it can help improve team performances at work. You can contact Dan via his email:  [email protected]

Dan Collins

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