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How poor sleep habits affect work performance

Overall, 30 percent of employed U.S. adults get less sleep than the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep a day, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Now new research from Brigham and Women's Hospital offers insights into how our poor sleep habits may be influencing our performance at work.

Findings published yesterday in The Journal of Vision show the longer a person is awake, the slower he is in performing complex visual search tasks, which are common in jobs such as air-traffic control and monitoring power plant operations.

Descriptions of the study and researchers' results are described in a hospital release:

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. The research team gave the participants computer tests that involved visual search tasks and 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.

While the accuracy of the participants stayed the fairly constant, they were slower to identify the relevant information as the weeks went on. The self-ratings of sleepiness only got slightly worse during the second and third weeks on the study schedule, yet the data show that they were performing the visual search tasks significantly slower than in the first week.

Although additional studies are needed, researchers say these findings suggest that while you may not feel especially tired, your lack of sleep may be notably affecting your performance on the job.

Previously: A look at the most sleep-deprived and well-rested occupationsStudy estimates Americans’ insomnia costs nation $63 billion annually and CDC report highlights the dangers of sleep deprivation
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