Although sleepless nights induce a variety of adverse health conditions, consistent inadequate sleep is a societally normalized practice in industrialized countries. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, over one-third of American adults neglect to meet the recommended duration of at least seven hours of sleep per night on a regular basis. The problem has escalated so widely that it is now considered a public health epidemic, and the effects are prevailing in the workplace.
Numerous studies have shown that insufficient sleep causes a variety of health issues. Compared to those who achieve sufficient sleep, sleep-deprived individuals are far more likely to report chronic health conditions, such as obesity, heart attacks, strokes, cancer, and depression. Analyzed in the short-term, sleep deprivation impairs day-to-day cognitive functioning, resulting in slower reaction time and even increased susceptibility to formation of false memories, according to research published by Psychological Science. These adverse impacts should have employers worried.
Implications For Productivity
Chronic sleeplessness hinders cognitive ability and lowers productivity, creating costs for employers that are more extensive than one would reasonably imagine. A study by the RAND Corporation reveals the economic costs of sleeplessness. On a quantifiable level, it is estimated that insufficient sleep results in annual economic losses of up to $411 billion in the U.S. alone. Even further, the U.S. loses an equivalent of 1.23 million working days per year to poor sleeping habits.
On a less measurable scale, lack of sleep is often responsible for human error and performance failure, warranting concern for safety. Multiple studies conducted by Harvard researchers concluded that the longer an individual worked while sleep-deprived, the higher their risk for “fatigue-related errors.” In some scenarios, this even included the occurrence of microsleep, short bursts of unintentional sleep that often occur while an individual is completing a routine task, sometimes without their knowledge. In some industries, the medical industry being the most prevalent example, these incidents of microsleep can be the difference between life and death.
Sleep Improvement Via The Workplace
In order to combat the threat of inadequate sleep, employers and employees alike should actively work to encourage better sleeping habits. Employers should take the initiative in informing employees that the negative effects of sleeplessness far exceed any of the perceived benefits. A common paradox that plagues many organizations is the justification that more working hours results in a higher level of achievement. Thus, many working adults attempt to achieve greater productivity by sleeping less, which is not only ineffective, but will likely achieve the opposite of the desired effect and negatively affect the health of the employees involved.
In addition, employees should be proactive about improving their own sleep patterns. Considering a large portion of an employee’s day is spent at work, this objective is best initiated through minor alterations of day-to-day behavior. Depicted below is a list of five simple changes that can be made throughout the workday to optimize sleep.
1. Move More
Although the advice to get up and move at frequent intervals throughout the day is not a novel idea, it is frequently suggested as a means of losing weight or alleviating back pain. While this can be extremely effective for those two goals, there is additional research showing that increased movement (and exercise in general) throughout the day can greatly improve sleep quality.
2. No Afternoon Coffee
It’s widely known that caffeine, especially when consumed later in the day, has a negative impact on sleep patterns. However, few people understand the impact caffeine late in a day can have on sleep as well as how much it varies individual to individual. Although the quality of sleep is most likely impacted in a negative way, some individuals are able to drink caffeine within three hours of going to bed and still fall asleep. Alternatively, other people will have extreme difficulty falling asleep after drinking caffeine within 10 hours before the desired bedtime. Employees should test different timings for caffeine cut-off times and monitor the effects on sleep to figure out what their limit is, but for many, it may be best to simply cut out caffeine intake after noon.
3. Eat More Nuts
Despite such a large number of foods being rich in magnesium, the mineral is frequently found to be deficient in individuals of the general population. This is due to many people avoiding magnesium-containing foods altogether, with a major one being nuts. Magnesium plays a major role, not just in sleep, but in overall brain health as well. Almonds, cashews, and peanuts are especially high in magnesium, and they are also commonly found in office kitchens. A very easy way to improve sleep is to increase magnesium intake, which can be done in the office by eating more nuts.
4. Eat More Before Leaving The Office
Although this factor depends a lot on individual lifestyle and personal schedule, it is important to consider appropriate meal timing when striving to improve sleep. While the effects of food on digestion and sleep quality will vary from individual to individual, in a general sense, eating right before bed will negatively affect sleep quality. The digestion process and potential psychological ramification caused by late-night snacking result in a more alert and restless body. Instead, individuals will benefit from snacking towards the end of the workday, as opposed to late at night, and eating a moderately sized meal at dinner time in order to feel more comfortable when going to sleep.
5. Prepare A Routine
As there is an abundance of research in support of this tip, most people probably already know it anecdotally: having a consistent bedtime routine and sleeping time leads to substantially improved sleeping patterns. These routines keep an individual’s circadian rhythm in check, and they help prime the body and mind for sleep. Once an individual becomes accustomed to a nighttime routine, the process of brushing their teeth, showering, reading, or whatever other actions comprise their routine, preps them for sleep.
Although sleep is one of the more difficult aspects of employee wellness to regulate, it is still a vital addition to any comprehensive wellness program. An increasing number of organizations are adapting flexible work schedules, granting employees with more sleep time. Companies, like Volkswagen, have enforced more extreme variations of this practice, actually limiting the amount of time employees may work by disabling company emails for a portion of the day. Like any detriment to employee health and workplace productivity, it is imperative for employers to acknowledge the effects of sleep deprivation on the success of their business and take initiative.