Sleep and Productivity – a Perfect Match

If you want to work productively during the day, you need to get some restful sleep at night. In order to reach your peak performance level, mental and physical regeneration is essential. But what does it mean exactly, sleeping well?

When it comes to sleep, the prejudice "a lot helps a lot" prevails persistently. But in fact, the relation between productivity and sleep quality is much more complex. Individually differing factors are in the foreground here.

In this post, I’ll tell you what you need to know about sleep, so you’re ready to take on the next day.

Quantity and quality – two sides of the same coin

According to scientific studies done by researchers at the University of San Diego, the ideal average sleep duration lies somewhere between 7 and 8 hours. How you’re sleeping during that time, that is, how good your sleep quality is, however, that’s the other side of the coin.

The so-called sleep hygiene plays an important role for your sleep quality. We understand sleep hygiene as the suppression of factors that hinder sleep and the promotion of factors that facilitate healthy sleep.

This could mean, for example, foregoing caffeinated drinks in the evening, creating a dark and quiet surrounding, or sticking to the sleeping rhythm that’s ideal for you. The right mattress can also have a big impact.

Your goal should be to create a cozy atmosphere that encourages you to relax. In our digital age, electronic devices such as smartphones and computer screens are omnipresent. The first step to better sleep hygiene is to shut them off completely or at least use Blaulichtfilter-Apps applications that filter out blue light


Concerning the ideal sleep duration – which by the way varies throughout the course of life – even a deficit of just 20 minutes can lead to a reduction of memory and performance abilities. Sleep disorders can further result in significantly decreased productivity, for example, because of tiredness during the day or an inability to concentrate.

While according to research findings , a minimum of 7 hours of sleep optimizes your cognitive abilities, such as creativity, learning, orientation, and perception, both a sleep duration of less than 7 hours as well as more than 8 hours can have the effect of reducing the same abilities.

Sleeping types – of larks and owls

When it comes to productivity, it’s not only the optimal sleep duration and quality that counts but also which individual sleeping type you are. While early risers prefer to start their work before 8 am and should reach their performance peak soon after, the performance level of an evening person is still in the lower range at that time.

If a person is a “lark”, they can typically jump out of bed around 6 am, while someone that’s an “owl” only reaches its potential in the evening, when it’s time for the lark to go back to bed again. The group of researchers that discovered how this biological clock functions has been awarded the nobel prize in medicine in 2017 . It’s decisive if you’re looking to increase your productivity.

The scientist Till Roenneberg had already come to the conclusion in the „Munich Chronotype Study 2006“ that a later riser could suffer a form of chronical jet lag, if she has to get up early for work every day. Over time, this temporal “miscast” can lead to disorders like cardiac problems which don’t harmonize with the person’s ambition for productivity.

Put in context with a productive working style, it’s possible to draw recommendations for individually aligned working hours. Those that are lucky enough to manage their time themselves can have a direct impact on their personal productivity. In general, companies should allow their employees a more flexible time allocation, if they care about their well-being and maximal performance abilities.

Sleep and productivity – a symbiosis

Experiencing a sleep deficit can reportedly lead to a reduced attention span, lower memory capacity, and longer reaction time which in turn hurt your productivity.

Besides the quality of your sleep and working hours that fit your sleeping type, finding a good balance between waking and sleeping phases is crucial to get to an ideal interaction of sleep and productivity at work. The technical term for this balance is called homeostasis. It says that you’re only able to get restful sleep if you’ve been awake for long enough. If you’ve had a good night’s sleep, you can use this period – on average 16 hours – productively, which in turn is a good precondition for high-quality sleep.

In 1996, the research team June Pilcher and John Huffcutt found in their meta study that sleep deficits strongly influence operability – which then has an effect on productivity. Like in the studies mentioned before, the researchers also noticed a decline in cognitive performance and reduced motoric abilities.

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Psychological-emotional factors can also influence your productivity which is why it’s important that you do something you’re passionate about. Only then you’ll be able to give your best in the long run. Of course, a fitting team constellation and a motivating working atmosphere are a musts as well. One skill that’s necessary here, among others, is the ability to solve conflicts together and fully concentrate on productive working. If you’re satisfied with your work life, chances are you’ll sleep better, too.

Work-life balance - why the weekends aren’t enough to regenerate

It might sound tempting to turn your weekend into one long night and catch up on the sleep you missed during the week. But you won’t be able to fully regenerate that way. While there’s nothing wrong with taking it slow on weekends, your sleep quality doesn’t benefit from a sleep rhythm that’s varying too much.

Professor Dr. Ingo Fietze - head of the Sleep Medicine Center at Charité in Berlin – claims that it’s unrealistic for today’s employees to reach the recommended 7-7,5 hours per night. That’s why he believes catching up on sleep on Saturday and Sunday can in fact be useful . A study done by the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm came to the same conclusion. Still, more research is required in order to give concrete recommendations. What is known though: banking sleep doesn’t boost your productivity.

Integrating a healthy work-life balance into your everyday life and not just at the weekends is crucial for a productive working style – and enjoying a conscious life outside of your job. Sticking to fixed working and leisure times is especially important for those working remotely . Productivity at work isn’t only dependent on sleep but also on living a fulfilled personal life.

Sleep optimization - visionary or nonsense?

Employers are primarily interested in ensuring a better sleep quality for their employees if it also pays off through increased productivity. Power napping – a short nap to recharge your inner batteries quickly – has long been incorporated into many offices and helps teams be more productive.

While sleep optimization, for example to increase productivity, is a desirable goal, not every way of reaching it should be pursued. Pharmaceutical approaches can prove especially problematic. They should only be considered together with medical advice and if you’re suffering from acute or chronic insomnia. There’s nothing wrong with using the naturally relaxing effects of baldrian or hop. It does get critical, however, when synthetic substances are misused in order to be able to sleep or to artificially improve one’s own performance level the night before an exam or presentation.

If you’re looking behind the scenes of future-oriented sleep management, you’ll already be confronted with techniques such as ´ sleep tracking. With the help of data found through digitally monitoring sleep, scientists are looking to find starting points for optimizing it. So-called nap pods, futuristic sleeping chairs, encourage you to take a power nap while inspiring exciting daydreams. The current tools are still in the early stages but it’s probably just a matter of time until a mix of pharmaceutics, neuro sciences, and high-tech innovations will help us get to the best sleep possible.

Extreme sleeping types – the routines of highly successful people

It’s no longer uncommon for managers to make their way to the office before sunrise, so they can focus on their work without any disturbance. Elon Musk claims he only needs 6 hours of sleep, Richard Branson 5 hours, and Marissa Mayer even found 4 hours of sleep to be enough during her time at Yahoo.

Word has it that soccer player Cristiano Ronaldo only sleeps for a maximum of 90 minutes at a time. From what sleep research tells us, however, it’s only a matter of time until following such extreme sleeping routines take their tolls, hurting your physiological and mental abilities.

This post has originally been written in German and has been translated by Tamina Steil.