As we “Spring forward” for Daylight Savings Time, we’re reminded of a common problem in our nation: sleep deprivation. Research has shown that, as a nation, we are sleeping less than we did even 50 years ago. This lack of sleep among our population is affecting everything from rising healthcare costs, to increased workplace safety issues, to company bottom lines.
It is in an employer’s best interest to be concerned about sleep deprivation among employees. Sleep deprivation is tied to decreased productivity, higher workers’ compensation costs, increased health care costs and even decreased morale among leadership and employees. Studies have shown that an individual awake for 17 hours straight has the performance ability of a person with a 0.05 percent blood alcohol level, which is legally drunk in many jurisdictions. People getting less than six hours of sleep at night are five times more likely to be obese and have a 56 percent increase in risk for type 2 diabetes. Additionally, a lack of sleep creates heightened emotional reactivity which can trickle down from less effective leaders to stressed employees and permeate the workforce.
We are seeing sleep deprivation on the rise due to factors such as:
- Longer commutes to and from work.
- Increased prevalence of medical conditions like sleep apnea, which can be brought on by obesity and a sedentary lifestyle.
- Greater “screen time,” with smartphones and computers which emit blue light making it more difficult to fall asleep.
- Our present culture which values overwork.
- Greater time spent indoors away from natural light clueing the body in to when it’s time to rest.
What can employers do to help address this epidemic? Employee education can be an easy no-cost/low-cost way for leadership to send a message in support of getting adequate rest. Many vendors can provide webinars, assessments, or educational materials that discuss the importance of quality sleep, how best to achieve it, and how to address problems, such as sleep apnea, with CPAP machines, weight loss, and other lifestyle changes.
Additionally, employers can focus attention on scheduling—limiting shift lengths and ensuring adequate time-off between shifts. Employers can evaluate and rework company policies to encourage a good night’s sleep—everything from travel policies, email policies (for example, implementing blackout times on email, after which no emails can be sent), mandatory work-free vacations, predictable time-off, working in teams (enabling teams to hand off work across time zones), and utilizing smart technology that encourages sleep management. Some employers have even utilized “napping” or “rest rooms” on site.
The best approach for your company depends on your organization’s needs and culture, as well as employee job functions. As some sleep issues may be medically related, outside guidance in dealing with specific employee medical issues is recommended.
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