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Sleep matters in the workplace
By Lisa Cottrell, Ph.D.,CBSM. Licensed Psychologist, Board Certified in Behavioral Sleep Medicine, Aurora Behavioral Health
 
Lack of good, restorative sleep can be harmful to living a healthy life. Insufficient sleep can cause difficulties concentrating, lower the ability to learn, and impair performance of daily tasks. Chronic sleep problems are associated with increased risk for various medical conditions, as well as psychological concerns.
 
For example, individuals having chronic sleep disturbance are at higher risk for obesity, cardiac disease, diabetes, chronic pain, cancer, peptic ulcer disease, depression and anxiety. People who have sleep insufficiency are also more likely to have increased mortality and reduced quality of life and productivity.
 
How prevalent is the problem?
Sleep disturbance and sleep disorders, including insomnia and obstructive sleep apnea, may affect more than 35% of the population. Some estimates are much higher. For example, according to National Center for Sleep Disorders research, in any given year, approximately 30 - 40% of adults experience some symptoms of insomnia and 10 - 15% of adults report that they have chronic insomnia.
 
According to a 2014 American Academy of Neurology review, more than 60 percent of Americans report their sleep needs aren't being met during a typical week. One workplace study by Rosekind1 and colleagues found that workers average only 6.4 hours of sleep nightly, although they said they needed more than 7.5 hours. About 10% of workers reported having insomnia and 45% said they had some trouble sleeping.
 
Are you (or your employees) sleep deprived?
Adults need between seven and nine hours of uninterrupted sleep a night to feel well rested and function at their best. In addition to sleep disorders and insomnia, factors such as illness, worry, stress, psychological concerns, medications and work shift/scheduling changes can all interfere with getting adequate sleep. 
 
The surprising costs of inadequate sleep
The direct and indirect costs of sleep disturbances are estimated at $100 billion annually in the United States.2 Performance and productivity is significantly lower among workers who have insomnia than among those who usually sleep well.
 
According to the American Insomnia Study sponsored by Harvard Medical School (2011), insomnia costs the average U.S. worker 11.3 days, or $2,280 in lost productivity every year. In the United States, the total cost of lower productivity due to insomnia is estimated to be $63.2 billion. Untreated sleep apnea may cause $3.4 billion in additional health care costs.
 
Sleep deficiency has been linked to motor vehicle crashes, industrial disasters, and medical and other occupational errors. The American Automobile Association (AAA) estimates that 17% of deadly traffic accidents, and 13% of crashes requiring hospitalization of drivers or passengers is due to drowsy driving. One analysis using a “human capital” method, estimated the cost of automobile accidents attributed to sleepiness to be $29.2 - $37.9 billion.
  
How to promote healthy sleep in the workplace
Workplace scheduling can have a significant impact on healthy sleep habits. Scheduling workers at consistent shift times supports the opportunity for better sleep.
 
Workplace norms that discourage “after hours” engagement in electronic communication can also contribute to good sleep hygiene practices. Promotion of work-life balance that allows for evening down time, regular exercise, relaxation and wellness activities is important, too. This includes eliminating exposure to digital screens at least one hour before bedtime. Fostering a workplace culture that encourages adequate sleep — rather than equating short changing your sleep with “working harder” — is an important element of promoting healthy workplace norms.
 
Help is available to address sleep problems
An assessment by a physician or a psychologist trained in sleep medicine can provide an appropriate diagnosis of sleep problems. There are very effective treatments available for various sleep disorders, including obstructive sleep apnea. Insomnia can be treated successfully with Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment of insomnia (CBTI). This short-term therapy is based on scientific knowledge about sleep.
 
When sleep disorders are treated successfully, health, mood, concentration and workplace productivity all increase and both the employee and the employer can benefit.
 
 
1Rosekind, Mark R. PhD; Gregory, Kevin B. BS; Mallis, Melissa M. PhD; Brandt, Summer L. MA; Seal, Brian PhD; Lerner, Debra PhD (2010). The Cost of Poor Sleep: Workplace Productivity Loss and Associated Costs Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 52 (1), 91-98.
 
2 Rosekind, M.R. & Gregory, K.B. (2010). Insomnia risks and costs: Health, safety and quality of life. American Journal of Managed Care 16 (8), 617-626
 
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