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Aug 2016

Tired of it! What to do when you have sleep-deprived employees


sleepy man at desk

Tucked behind the ‘health and wellness’ staples - such as exercising and eating nutritiously- is one of the most important factors in human functionality: sleep. Oftentimes, we associate workplace wellness with ‘doing more’. This includes things such as exercising more, eating more healthy foods, and interacting more with fellow employees. Sometimes, however, the key to workplace wellness is doing less, and letting oneself rest.

There are many occupations that require employees to work late, odd, and exhausting hours. Truck drivers spend many nights on the road, police men and hospital staff work night shifts, and manufacturing companies have employees who man the graveyard shift. Not to mention the countless gas station clerks, fast food workers, and small business owners who spend many nighttime hours on the job. With an economy that runs around the clock, sleep deficiencies are bound to occur.

Sleep deprivation in the United States is much more common than generally perceived. The Center for Disease control found that one-third of individuals in the United States does not get enough sleep. The CDC recommends that individuals between the ages of 18 and 60 sleep for at least 7 hours per night. This amount of time will allow for the body to recover and prepare itself for the next day. Yet, a survey by Gallup found that 40% of Americans are sleeping less than 7 hours per night. On average, Americans sleep only 6.8 hours per night.

Why is sufficient sleep so important?

Sleep is imperative to the overall health and wellbeing of an individual. Sleep is essential to the way our bodies recover and prepare for the following day. While sleeping, blood vessels and muscle repair themselves. Not only so, but sleep promotes development and growth in muscle mass and other tissues. Lack of sleep can lead to complicated and severe health issues such as heart disease and kidney disease. Those who are sleep deprived are also at a higher risk of stroke and obesity. 

Getting enough sleep also increases learning capabilities, improves decision making, problem solving, and other brain-based function. Contrarily, getting too little sleep can make it harder to make decisions, reduce problem solving capabilities, and make learning new tasks more difficult. Ultimately, individuals who are well rested are more apt for quick learning and creative problem solving.

Sleep deficiency in the workplace

Sleep deficiency has a significant impact on the physical and mental tools of an individual. Consequently, the limitation of those physical and mental tools can impact the quality of an employee’s work. In fact, workers who are behind on their sleep lose 11 days of productivity every year. This means that employees who are caught up on sleep produce 11 more days-worth of work than those who are sleep deprived. Fiscally, this has a significant impact on the workplace.  With each sleep-deprived employee losing 11 days-worth of productivity companies can expect to throw away over two-thousand dollars per employee, per year. Nationally, this equates to over 63 billion dollars lost yearly.

Workplace safety also takes a hit when employees are overtired. Poor decision making skills and reduced awareness are catalysts for workplace accidents. Not only are employees placing themselves at risk, but they are increasing the risk of harm for their coworkers.


How can employers help?

Sleep deficiencies are no different than ailment under the broad reach of workplace wellness. Employees cannot be overworked. There has to be a conscious effort to allow workers the appropriate amount of time to rest and recover. Employers should provide training on the importance of sleep, as well as on the negative physical effects of sleep deficiencies.

Employers should consider implementing an employee wellness program. Employees who exercise regularly, eat nutritiously, and sleep enough are the most productive. Every wellness program should seek to not only improve the work performance of employees, but also their individual lives. Well rested workers will have lower stress levels, healthier blood pressure, and will be mentally sharper. Including the importance of sleep, as well as exercise and diet in your employee wellness program is the key to success.

Ultimately, there is only so much an employer can do. Still, stressing the importance of sufficient sleep can go a long way in improving the health and safety of the workplace. Not every employee will buy into what training and science tells them. Yet, even a small change can go a long way in health and safety.

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