A lack of sleep is causing worrying health symptoms in today's professionals and bringing with it productivity effects including a lack of focus, inability to make decisions, high levels of irritability, frustration, and poor performance, according to a survey of over 1,000 workers across all ages and levels.

A 24/7, always-on, globally networked and technologically-connected business culture, combined with the pressure to be seen performing are contributing to a sleep-deprived workforce.

Ironically, this performance culture causes sleep deprivation which in turn undermines performance.

The survey, conducted by the Hult International Business School based in Cambridge, Massachussets in the US, reveals that the majority of people do not even get the minimum seven hours of sleep recommended by the American Academy of Sleep Science.

The older we get the less sleep we have, with Generation Y (age 20 - 34) getting 6 hours and 48 minutes of sleep, Generation X (35 - 39) slumbering for 6 hours 25, and Baby Boomers (over 50) catching Z's for just 6 hours and 18 minutes on average a night.

Productivity problems

The result of this chronic sleep deficit is a raft of productivity, leadership and performance issues including: frustration when projects are not going to plan (71% of survey respondents reported this), trouble staying focused in meetings (69%) or on daily objectives (66%), taking longer to complete tasks (68%), and finding it harder to work with challenging colleagues (65%). Motivation of self (72%) and others (39%) were also critical areas of performance affected by a loss of sleep.

Health challenges

Young professionals reported a greater impact on their physical and emotional health from a lack of sleep than older executives, with 75% of Gen Yers saying they felt lethargic (only 54% of Baby Boomers reported this.) Younger people more often reported stress and anxiety as a result of sleep deprivation. Respondents across all age groups reported a lack of energy (86%), irritability (84%), being less likely to socialise (78%), feeling stressed (75%) and struggling with motivation (72%). In addition, health effects such as headaches and loss of sex drive were also reported as a result of a lack of sleep.

Now we should all get some sleep

"It is common for managers and colleagues to look at a lack of focus or motivation, irritability and bad decision making as being caused by poor training, organisational politics or the work environment. The answer could be simpler - a lack of sleep," write the researchers.

The results of the survey show that HR managers and senior leadership in charge of driving the work culture in organizations could make big strides in organizational performance by simply encouraging people to put in a good night's rest.