A good night’s rest. How many of you have enjoyed one of those in the past two weeks. A review of the comments of many of my professional colleagues on Facebook indicates many of them are sleep deprived because of travel, long hours on the job and familial pressures. I am sitting here composing this at 11 p.m. at night myself. I know that as a result of a late night I will most likely not be at my best tomorrow morning. The effect of poor sleep has long been known to have a major cost to business primarily for three reasons. Here are the three work reasons we should get a good night’s sleep.
A study by Mark Rosekind et al in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (JOEM), entitled The Cost of Poor Sleep: Workplace Productivity Loss and Associated Costs, studied the effect of disturbed sleep on three areas. Disturbed sleep included too little sleep, insomnia, waking too early or waking several times during the night. The average amount of sleep in the study group was 6.4 hours. The average amount of time spent working was 9.5 hours a day. I don’t believe that included commute time or time spent working at home. What the study found was that those with disturbed sleep patterns “had significantly greater decrements in their ability to perform work tasks.” The group with insomnia had the lowest performance. Workers with irregular work schedules were poor performers as well and seemed to include many of the insomniacs.
In addition to being lower producers subjects that had disturbed sleep also had far greater impaired performance, particularly the insomniacs who:
Reported significantly greater negative effects of fatigue on attention, decision-making, memory, and motivation at work. Similar negative effects were seen …for survey items assessing the ability to concentrate, social functioning, and communication.
All sleep disturbed groups did not fare as well as the “good sleep” group.
Employees who suffered from disturbed sleep also had an increased risk of impaired safety, both at work and at home. As the report said they “had significantly more reports of unintentional sleep at work, injury at home due to being sleepy or tired, nodding off while driving, and having a near miss or automobile accident due to sleepiness or tiredness.”
Not just a US problem
A similar report, though less scientific, showed that Australian industry is having similar problems with its workforce. They considered it significant enough “that health experts, industry, employer and union groups have combined to form the Federal Government funded Cooperative Research Centre for Alertness, Safety and Productivity.” The authors cited a study done in 2010 by the Sleep Health Foundation, working with Deloitte Access Economics that “found more than $800 million of direct health system costs were because of sleep disorders and it accounted for $4.3 billion of indirect costs, of which $3.1 billion related to lost productivity.”
The Rosekind et al study also found that disturbed sleep lead to all types of health issues such as “depression, suicide, anxiety, and disability, diabetes mellitus, obesity, and hypertension.” In fact 65% of the participants were considered to be overweight.
How to fix the problem
Unfortunately we as employers cannot put our employees to bed and tuck them in. If we could we might make them and our businesses healthier and more productive. But we can be aware of the impact our work requirements have on those employees. We can be aware of employees that are constantly showing signs of fatigue. We can try to adjust workloads and schedules to allow them more opportunities for rest. Rosekind et al
Employers can also play a role in educating workers about the importance of sleep and how to effectively and safely manage sleep loss/fatigue through a variety of proven strategies, including naps, better managed work demands, regular exercise, duty hour considerations, and instructing them on the basics of good sleep habits.
I am a big fan of the nap strategy myself and have written on it before in An Easy Way to Increase Your Productivity and in “Yawn”: Lack of Sleep and the Benefit of a Power Nap. So for you chronically sleep deprived readers try to put some change in your life and watch the quality of it improve with a bit more shut-eye.
Now it is time for me to go to bed.
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