Even when we think we’re performing normally, sleep loss decreases our daytime performance. That’s the conclusion of a recent study by the University of Pennsylvania Sleep and Chronobiology Laboratory. In the study, laboratory workers were deprived of sleep during the night. The next day, researchers measured their on the job performance levels. During the performance testing, workers were not allowed to drink caffeinated beverages, talk to coworkers or turn on bright lights, tricks people often use to keep themselves awake. In every single case, lab workers eventually lost the ability to concentrate and were unable to perform their normal work tasks.
What is particularly interesting about the University of Pennsylvania study is that nearly every worker strongly denied that sleep loss was affecting his job performance, even after confronted with evidence of a drop in his performance. Study leader David Dinges calls lack of sleep the “stealth factor” in job and school performance. Dinges postulates that unidentified sleep loss most likely plays a significant role in daytime performance.
The study suggests that the possibility of sleep problems and sleep loss should be investigated when performance decreases, whether in adult workers or school children. Your child’s math problems or inattentiveness at school may have less to do with ability and maturity than with how well your child sleeps at night.