How Sleep Deprivation Can Affect the Workforce

Posted by Matt Schwartz on Mon, Aug 10, 2020 @ 09:08 AM

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Have you noticed a recurring complaint from people saying they wish they had more time? In our quest to squeeze more out of the day, we often push sleep aside and humorously tell our friends and coworkers, "I'll sleep when I'm dead." The irony in that statement is that by not getting enough sleep, you may be doing enough damage to your body to cause death to occur sooner rather than later.

As pointed out in an informative Employee Benefit News article, research shows that, rather than helping people get ahead at work, burning the midnight oil can negatively impact performance and, more importantly, mental and physical health.

More than a third of American adults are not getting the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A lack of sleep can lead to:

  • Increased absenteeism and illness. The U.S. loses an equivalent of around 1.2 million working days due to insufficient sleep,and research has found that sleeping fewer than five hours consistently is associated with staying home sick for 4.6 to 8.9 more days.
  • Lost productivity. Losing even just a bit of sleep can affect productivity. A recent study found that participants who lost just 16 minutes of sleep on a nightly basis reported having more distracting thoughts at work.
  • Consequences for physical and mental wellbeing. Lack of sleep has major consequences on long-term health, including increased rates of chronic diseases and conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease and hypertension.

Lack of sleep affects workers regardless of occupation. For employees who work shifts (often overnight), such as in call centers, manufacturing, hospitals and oil and gas, losing sleep can become a safety risk. In fact, findings have shown that shift work sleep disorder impacts approximately 10% of the night and rotating shift work population.

It’s time for employers to recognize the role sleep plays in employee well-being and take steps to foster a workplace culture that reinforces and encourages healthy behaviors.

There are a number of tools and programs that employers can use to show they value and encourage healthy sleep habits, educate employees about how sleep can improve their work performance and support them in sticking to sleep goals. Organizations like the National Sleep Foundation offer employers resources to learn more about the benefits of sleep tracking to monitor sleep stages and tips to improve sleep for everyday health.

Employers can provide employees with tip sheets, send emails or hang posters around the office to encourage healthy sleep habits and explain how critical sleep is for their wellbeing. Tips employers can share include shutting down electronics 30 minutes before bedtime, keeping smartphones and laptops away from bed to create a sleep zone and using a guided breathing exercise or meditation apps to help the body wind down. It’s also important for managers to lead by example and encourage healthy sleep habits, including avoiding sending emails too late in the evening and being conscious of employees working in other time zones.

Wearables can also help people track their activity, sleep and overall health goals. Before the launch of wearable devices, many types of health data, including quantity and quality of sleep, were only accessible to study participants via sleep labs – which are both costly and time consuming. With today’s technology, employees can better understand their sleep patterns and use that data to find a sleep plan that works for them.

Sleep tracking can also be useful to help employees correlate data and insights based on their schedules, activity levels and what they’ve had to eat or drink. For instance, someone who tracks their sleep may find that getting exercise after work helps them get a better night of rest. Having a different sleep pattern on work days versus days off can cause social jet lag — a feeling almost like changing time zones that can take a significant toll on sleep cycle and overall health. That’s why it’s important to keep a consistent sleep schedule throughout the week and the weekend.

Here’s the bottom line: insufficient sleep contributes to poor productivity, worse health outcomes, absenteeism at work and it can also create safety risks. Today, more and more employers are working to combat the idea of sacrificing sleep in corporate culture and are recognizing that it is an asset to the workplace, not an enemy.

Topics: Worksite Wellness, Company Culture, Employee Engagement