You’re coming up against a deadline and really want to finish a project, what’s the harm in staying up a few hours later to knock it out? The impact that lack of sleep has to your health, productivity and workplace may be more than you realize. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declared insufficient sleep a public health crisis – up to a third of American adults are not getting enough sleep on a regular basis.
Insufficient sleep has financial consequences according to a RAND Corporation study that found the US sustains economic losses of up to $411 billion a year and loses an equivalent of about 1.23 million working days due to lack of sleep. Insufficient sleep can also impact productivity, with fatigue related productivity losses being estimated at $1,967 annually per employee. Poor sleep can also increase the frequency of accidents and injury in the workplace because it slows physical and cognitive reaction times and accuracy. Workers who are highly fatigued are 70% more likely to be involved in workplace accidents compared to their better rested peers. One study showed that staying up for 18 consecutive hours is the equivalent of having a .05% blood-alcohol content – but most people wouldn’t think twice about showing up to work having not slept.
There are also health impacts that were discussed in the RAND study, people who sleep an average less than six hours per night have a ten percent higher mortality risk than someone sleeping between seven and nine hours. People who sleep between six to seven hours per day still have a four percent higher mortality risk. Poor sleep also increases the risk for a variety of chronic conditions. For example, adults who sleep six or fewer hours per night are more likely to be obese and have diabetes, coronary heart disease, and stroke than those who report seven to nine hours of sleep.
How can employers improve their employee’s sleep habits? First, change your company culture to support sleep health and actively encourages taking breaks. Without your employees knowing that sleep is a priority they may not feel empowered to take breaks or make changes to their habits. If your workplace has long shifts, incorporate napping or has extended breaks try to create dedicated areas for sleeping with beds or comfortable chairs. If your company schedules currently don’t allow for extended breaks and could have employees working long shifts (especially back-to-back long shifts) adjust your schedules to allow for extended breaks between shifts where employees can take a quick nap and encourage employees to use their breaks to rest. Employees who are able to even take a quick rest or nap may have improved alertness and performance. For example, nurses who were given a one-hour break in a quiet and restful environment were more alert during their shift and felt less worn out.
If your company doesn’t have long shifts and is more of an office environment you can share information with your employees about the importance of balancing their work and their health. Discourage a corporate culture that expects employees to constantly be checking their devices and promotes healthy boundaries with work. Share information with your employees about the impact of sleep on their personal and professional lives and give tips for how to improve sleep quality. Small things can add up to a large impact on the quality of sleep, including consistent times for going to bed and waking up, limiting electronic items for an hour or more before bed and engaging in regular exercise.