Worker bees have the important job of letting their hive-mates know where to find food.
They pass on the information by performing a "waggle dance" containing coded directions to nectar-rich flowers.
But when the insects were deprived of sleep, their ability to communicate clearly began to suffer.
Their dances became sloppier and less precise than those of rested bees.
Dr Barrett Klein, from the University of Texas, in Austin, said: "We found that sleep-deprived honey bees also advertised the direction to a food site less precisely to their fellow bees."
The research involved waving a magnet over sleeping bees that had been fitted with small metallic backpacks, jostling them awake.
The research is reported in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.