Wasted Days and Wasted Nights: When Workers Don’t Get Enough Sleep

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By Gayle Cinquegrani

An employee who seems grouchy or unproductive may be suffering from insufficient sleep. Lack of sleep has negative consequences for the workplace, including decreased productivity and increased absenteeism, according to human resource and medical professionals.

Sleep deprivation is “frequently the root cause of decreased productivity in the workplace,” Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer at CareerBuilder, a job-search website, told Bloomberg BNA in a March 23 email.

A recent survey by CareerBuilder found that many employees are just not getting enough sleep. The survey was conducted to find out whether workers think they’re getting enough sleep and what the consequences could be if they aren’t, Haefner said.

More workers get too little sleep than enough sleep, with 26 percent feeling they don’t get enough sleep each night, the survey showed. Only 17 percent get at least the doctor-recommended eight hours. Slightly more than half of workers (52 percent) average only five to seven hours of sleep each night, and 6 percent average less than five hours per night, according to the survey.

An occasional night without sleep makes you feel tired and irritable. After several sleepless nights, “your brain will fog, making it difficult to concentrate and make decisions,” Haefner said. “You’ll start to feel down and may fall asleep during the day. Your risk of injury and accidents at home, work and on the road also increase,” she said.

To counter the negative effects of sleep deprivation for both employees and the workplace, some employers offer sleep wellness programs.

Effects of Insufficient Sleep

The CareerBuilder survey asked detailed questions about how inadequate sleep slowed down the workers. Sixty percent said a lack of sleep has impeded their work performance and 22 percent have called in sick so they could get some extra sleep. Twenty-nine percent said it makes the day drag, 27 percent said it dampens their motivation and 25 percent said it makes them less productive.

In addition, 19 percent of workers said lack of sleep makes them forgetful, 13 percent said it makes them take longer to complete tasks and 13 percent said it makes them grouchy toward their coworkers. Twelve percent said they make mistakes when sleepy and 8 percent said it makes them resent their job.

“Deficits in decision-making and short-term memory both occur” after “even one night of poor sleep,” Catherine Stoney, program director and acting deputy branch chief at the National Institute of Health’s Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute told Bloomberg BNA March 23. Furthermore, “when you don’t have enough sleep, you have a greater perception of stress.”

Obviously, inadequate sleep is a bad influence in the workplace, but the survey indicates the workplace may be a bad influence for sleep. Sixty-five percent of workers reported they have dreamed about work at least once, and 13 percent said they frequently do. Forty-seven percent say thinking about work keeps them up at night. “Beyond that, it could be a variety of factors—pain, stress, medical illness, noises and distractions,” Haefner said.

Prolonged lack of sleep can make a person susceptible to serious medical conditions, including obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes, Haefner said.

Sleep Wellness Programs

Employer wellness programs could screen workers for sleep disorders and poor sleep habits and make coaches available to answer questions about sleep issues, according to Haefner.

“If you overlook sleep, you’re not really doing justice to wellness,” Sina Nader, president of SWAN Medical Group, a sleep optimization consulting firm in San Francisco, told Bloomberg BNA March 27. “That sleep component has been lacking” in many wellness programs. “The overall momentum is strongly moving” towards recognizing the importance of sleep, but “at the moment it’s largely reserved for the more elite and forward-looking organizations that have resources.”

There has been a lot of interest from the technology community, the trucking and transportation community, and the aerospace and defense community, Nader said. “The smarter organizations realize that sleep is fundamentally important to their business model and to their bottom line.”

When running a sleep wellness program, Nader’s company begins with a short computerized questionnaire. An employee who doesn’t appear to have an underlying medical condition may be directed for sleep coaching or cognitive behavioral therapy that teaches him to reframe his thoughts. For example, the employee may learn to make a list of his projects for the next day so he feels safe in transferring them out of his mind and onto paper.

Unconventional Work Schedules

Circadian 24/7 Workforce Solutions specializes in “people whose work schedules are outside the 9 to 5,” Dr. Martin Moore-Ede, the company’s chief executive officer, told Bloomberg BNA March 27. Circadian helps businesses “figure out the right staffing levels” and “the optimal schedule” so they can cover their round-the-clock personnel needs without depleting their workforce. Circadian has worked with police and fire departments, hospitals, media companies, power plants, airlines, and offshore oil rigs.

“There’s more awareness of the risks of fatigue,” Moore-Ede said. “There are more laws in place now,” as well as industry standards requiring the management of fatigue as a risk factor, he said. “This momentum has been building,” especially during the past 10 years.

The use of workplace nap rooms, where exhausted employees can grab a short nap in the workplace, “is catching on to some extent,” he said. “The issue is managing” nap rooms so they’re not “abused,” he said.

Thirty-eight percent of workers would use a “nap room” if their workplace had one.

CareerBuilder provides recruiting, employment screening and human capital management. Harris Poll conducted this survey for CareerBuilder online from mid-November to early December 2016. More than 3,600 workers across several industries participated.

To contact the reporter on this story: Gayle Cinquegrani in Washington at gcinquegrani@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tony Harris in Washington at tharris@bna.com

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