Do I have to go to work if I didn't get enough sleep?

Woman sitting in an office, tired after not having enough sleep

If you’ve woken up a little drowsy after a long weekend, you’ve probably asked yourself whether you definitely have to go to work if you haven’t had enough sleep. 

It’s officially the festive season! And with the confirmation that Christmas parties won’t be cancelled this time around, it’s fair to predict that there may be a few late nights coming up before the end of the year. But feeling exhausted and trying to have a productive working day are not a match made in heaven, that’s for sure. 

So what’s the rule on calling in sick if you’ve not got your 8 hours? This is what the experts say.

Do I have to go to work if I didn’t get enough sleep?

Unfortunately yes, you normally do have to go to work if you don’t get enough sleep. 

While you shouldn’t go to work if you have a cold, due to the ongoing risk of the Covid-19 pandemic, tiredness isn’t infectious so it doesn’t work in the same way. 

“This is not sickness,” explains Helen Watson, partner and head of employment law at legal firm Aaron and Partners. “Although you may not feel 100% as a result of a sleep.

“If you call in sick in this situation, your employer may not make a payment to you of statutory sick pay (SSP) and/or contractual sick pay - so you may risk a day off unpaid.”

Coworkers chatting with coffee discussing projects

Credit: Getty

And it’s not only the prospect of an unpaid day at home that should have you worried. “Where this is viewed by an employer as a regular occurrence or where a pattern appears with sickness absence for example on a Monday after a weekend of late nights, then your employer can take disciplinary action. Thus, you potentially risk warnings on your personnel file or worse still, the termination of your employment.” 

But there’s no doubt about it, being tired all the time can certainly affect your ability to concentrate. 

As Kemmy Gichaba, osteopath and creator of Holistic Impact, says, sleep is when the body recovers and deals with issues that it’s pushed aside during the day. 

“Reduced sleep, or bad quality sleep can affect your mood, making you feel less patient and more irritable. A lack of sleep can also cause headaches which can affect concentration. This is especially if you are experiencing temporal/frontal headaches, or migraines that cause pressure behind the eyes. 

“You can also experience a lack of concentration in the forms of reduced attention span, drowsiness, and fatigue as a result of less sleep.” 

So what should you do if you have to go to work?

How to get through a working day without sleep

The best way to make it through the day with limited sleep is to tackle the easy things on your to-do list, Kemmy says. 

“When you haven’t had enough sleep, it can be harder to focus on trickier, harder tasks. I would advise tackling the tasks which you are more able to complete easily. Complete the harder ones when you are more rested.” 

Woman holding cup of coffee and smart phone in cafeteria

Having a cup of coffee is one way to recover from a poor night's sleep, Credit: Getty.
(Image credit: Getty Images/Cavan Images RF)

If you're a coffee drinker, a strong cup in the morning is a good way forward. A standard cup of filter coffee contains around 95mg of caffeine on average. This is a little higher than the famously caffeine-rich Red Bull, which has between 75 and 80mg of caffeine. It's also much higher than tea. When paired with milk, tea only has between 6 and 60mg of caffeine.

According to a study published in the Annals of Behavioural Medicine in 2012, the best time to drink coffee if you're feeling the effects of a late night is between 9.30 to 11am.

While there's nothing to suggest you shouldn't drink it first thing, caffeine raises levels of the cortisol hormone in the body. Cortisol, which naturally spikes when we wake up, keeps us looking lively naturally for the first few hours of the day. If you wake up around 6.30am for work, your cortisol levels will begin to dip around 9.30. So, having a coffee - or any caffeine drink - at this time may be more beneficial.

And, although it's probably not possible if you're in the office all day, having a nap can also certainly help to keep you working. 

“If you haven’t had enough sleep and you are feeling it the next day, I would recommend finding 20 minutes in the day for a nap or a micro nap. This helps to improve alertness and concentration.” 

Then, when you have the time, try and recover from your lost sleep by following these tips:

Wind down and go to sleep earlier the next day

Obviously, the best way to recover from a lack of sleep is to get some sleep. But that means winding down earlier too, so you can get a better quality of sleep as well as more of it. 

Girl lying in bed asleep

Credit: Getty

“To wind down effectively, put down devices. Switch off the TV around an hour before you plan to fall asleep. The blue light emitted from digital devices can make you feel more alert and, consequently, make it harder for you to fall asleep,” Kemmy says. 

Do some aerobic exercise

“Adding aerobic exercise to your routine can help to improve your sleep over time,” Kemmy says. “It helps to improve your sleep quality and the amount of sleep you get during the night. 

HIIT, running, power walking and swimming are great forms of aerobic exercise which can help you sleep better.” 

Use magnesium bath salts

Magnesium is a mineral that’s very beneficial to our bodies, Kemmy says. Often available as a magnesium butter, the mineral was proven to help maintain a state of rest in a 2012 study as it encourages relaxation. It also plays an essential role in the body’s response to stress. 

In turn, a deficiency in magnesium may be the thing that’s preventing you from finding that perfect sleep schedule. 

And CBD oil, known for its anxiety-reducing effects, works much in the same way. 

Grace Walsh
Features Writer

Grace Walsh is a health and wellbeing writer, working across the subjects of family, relationships, and LGBT topics, as well as sleep and mental health. A digital journalist with over six years  experience as a writer and editor for UK publications, Grace is currently Health Editor for and has also worked with Cosmopolitan, Red, The i Paper, GoodtoKnow, and more. After graduating from the University of Warwick, she started her career writing about the complexities of sex and relationships, before combining personal hobbies with professional and writing about fitness.