Is poor sleep affecting your work?

  • Lack of sleep can impact your functioning at home and in the workplace
  • There are a number of reasons why people experience insomnia or disturbed sleep
  • If any apply to you, you may need to seek further help from a GP

Having difficulty sleeping now and again isn’t unusual, but if it’s become a pattern, it’s important to get expert help. Lack of sleep can severely impact on your functioning at home and in the workplace.

Chronic sleep deprivation can also significantly affect your health.

Here we highlight a number of different reasons why people experience insomnia or disturbed sleep.


Insomnia and broken sleep can be linked to depression — although it’s not always clear which comes first. Depression itself is thought to disturb sleep by disrupting the body clock that keeps sleep on track, but chronic insomnia may also increase the risk of developing depression.

Sleep anxiety

When we don’t sleep well for a night or two, it’s possible to become so anxious about getting to sleep that the anxiety itself keeps us awake. Accepting that waking can be normal and learning to reframe your thinking helps lower sleep anxiety. Relaxation exercises may help too.

Sleep apnoea

If someone has sleep apnoea, it means that the walls of the throat come together during sleep, blocking off the upper airway and reducing the oxygen supply to the body. It can be recognised by listening to a person breathing and snoring – they may have brief pauses that last a few seconds to a minute. After a minute the person may snore or gasp and wake up briefly as they struggle to breathe. Sleep apnoea needs prompt treatment as the associated daytime fatigue can be particularly dangerous.


Menopausal symptoms like hot flushes and night sweats can disturb sleep. To fall asleep and stay asleep, our body temperature needs to drop.  If you wake up because you’re too hot, the best approach is to prepare strategies to help you cool down quickly and get back to sleep e.g. having a fan in the bedroom, or keeping a bowl of cold water and a face cloth nearby.

Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome

To feel sleepy or drowsy, we need our levels of the sleep hormone melatonin to rise. But in some people the levels of melatonin don’t rise until much later in the night, making it difficult to fall asleep until after midnight or in the early hours of the morning.

Advanced Sleep Phase Syndrome

This is a similar problem — except that it causes the person to feel sleepy early in the evening, sometimes as early as six o’clock. This may lead them to wake up in the early hours of the morning and be unable to get back to sleep.

Restless Legs Syndrome

People with this syndrome may experience uncomfortable sensations in the legs and sometimes the arms. The sensations are often described as crawling, tingling, painful or prickly and can cause an irresistible urge to move the legs. Self-help techniques and medicines may help treat the problem.

Periodic Limb Movements of Sleep

Periodic limb movements of sleep (PLMS) causes involuntary leg movements such as flexing the toe, bending the knee or hip twitching. This can disturb the sleep of the person with PLMS or any other person sharing their bed. Sometimes it can be treated by reducing alcohol, caffeine and smoking or by taking certain medicines.

Seek help for sleep problems

If you’ve experienced sleepless nights for more than a few weeks or if you’ve relied on sleeping pills for more than 2 weeks and cannot sleep properly without them, it’s important to seek help from your GP. Depending on the problem at hand, he or she may be able to assist or may refer you to a psychologist for general advice about sleeping habits, or to a sleep specialist.


Bartlett D Paisley L Desai A. Insomnia: diagnosis and management. Medicine Today. 2006; 7(8).

Berk M. Sleep and depression — theory and practice. Australian Family Physician. 2009; 38(5): 302–304.

beyondblue. Sleeping well [Online; accessed Jul 2016] Available from:

Breus M J. WebMD. Sleep habits: More important than you think [Online; last updated Mar 2006; accessed Jul 2016] Available from:

This information has been reviewed for Bupa by health professionals and to the best of their knowledge is current and based on reputable sources of medical research. It should be used as a guide only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional medical or other health professional advice. Bupa HI Pty Ltd (and its related entities) makes no warranties or representations regarding the completeness or accuracy of the recommendations or assessments and is not liable for any loss or damage you suffer arising out of the use of or reliance on the information, except that which cannot be excluded by law. We recommend that you consult your doctor or other qualified health professional if you have questions or concerns about your health.