There are more similarities between being sleepy and being drunk than we might realise. Though most of us would not show up at the office intoxicated, we might not be so careful when it comes to getting enough sleep. To be mentally sharp and alert we need sleep. Sleep loss impacts neurocognitive functions like short-term memory and more complex mental tasks such as multi-tasking, decision-making and problem-solving in much the same way as alcohol does.

However, research in the UK shows that people under-sleep by an average of almost one hour every night. 4 in 10 don’t get enough sleep and 1 in 5 sleep poorly most nights.

Even a reduction in sleep of just a few hours has a real impact on our impulsiveness, coordination, attention and slows down our speed of response significantly; we might find ourselves slurring our words when speaking as if we had had a few glasses of wine. If we get 8 hours of sleep this means that we are awake for 16 hours. Pushing that and not sleeping for 17 hours impacts us in a similar way as drinking 2 glasses of wine.

After being awake for more than 17 hours our response speed is up to 50% slower and we would not be considered able to safely drive a car in most countries.

If we stay up for 24 hours the effect is similar to having 4 glasses of wine—facts worthwhile considering before pulling an all-nighter at work. There has never been a better excuse for going to bed. Enjoy the effects of that after-work beer but don’t let a lack of sleep sabotage your day in the office.  

Sources: Waking up to the Health Benefits of Sleep 2016, University of Oxford/RSPH. Moderate Sleep Deprivation Produces Impairments in Cognitive and Motor Performance Equivalent to Legally Prescribed Levels of Alcohol Intoxication, Williamson & Feyer