Sleep: who needs it? From college students to busy employees (and let’s not forget parents) sleep has continued to decrease in importance and is seen as a luxury for some instead of a necessity. Why should we waste time sleeping when we can join the 150 million other Americans relying on a cup of Joe (or three) to wake up and be ready to rock & roll? Well, it turns out our national coffee addiction is actually just masking one of our nation’s biggest problems that doesn’t headline the news nightly – sleep deprivation, which the CDC has declared a public health problem. Enterprises are feeling the impact of it too, with American companies losing 63.2B annually in lost productivity stemming from employee burnout. The causes of poor sleep vary from a wide set of factors, such as work schedule, stress, sleeping conditions and/or sleeping disorders. The effects, however, are all significant. So how widespread is this problem? What are the solutions?
The problem is bigger than you think
Sleep deprivation is an issue that plagues millions of Americans, affecting them both in their personal lives as well as at the office. According to a Harvard Medical School study insomnia may be responsible for as many as 274,000 occupational accidents and errors in the US annually. This results in companies having to spend an addition $31B annually in extra expenses associated with these events. Americans as a whole report sleeping an average of 7:36 a night. However, this number isn’t as productive as it seems, with 35% of Americans reporting their sleep quality as “poor” or “only fair.”
To put this into context, in the same National Sleep Foundation poll, 20% of Americans reported that they did not wake up feeling refreshed in the last seven days. While 50- 70M Americans chronically suffer from a sleep or wakefulness disorder that contributes to this, there are many other factors that can contribute to a poor’s night rest.
Major factors contributing to poor sleep are:
- High Stress and Anxiety
- Alcohol and nicotine consumption
- Drastic change in daily routine ( Hello quarantine 2020)
Let’s not forget that too much blue light and caffeine (is there caffeine in coffee?) can make going to bed at night tough. There are numerous side effects of consistently getting a poor night’s sleep. Public health consequences of sleep loss are severe, with an often-cited example being the Challenger disaster. Some other results that cumulatively take a massive toll on public health include; mortality, performance, functioning skills and work quality. These factors can lead to more long-term, severe problems such as obesity and hypertension. With a third of American workers reporting less than six hours of sleep a night, what can companies do to improve employee health and mitigate risk?
How can I help my employees?
Education is a good starting point for companies looking to help improve employee burnout rates due to lack of quality sleep. Ceridian, a leading corporate wellness company offers sleep coaches, to help employees learn healthy habits for getting a good night’s rest. Other health and wellness companies have continued to expand their educational services; Big Health recently launched, which Sleepio at Work which provides employees with a “sleep score” based on a questionnaire, creates a personalized sleep program, and offers insomnia advice.
Many other companies leverage their wellness programs to educate employees on mindfulness and relaxation techniques, such as yoga and meditation. Naps, like bean bag chairs, have become trendy with major companies and smaller businesses alike, with a 2011 NSF poll having 24% of respondents saying their employers allow them to nap at work, and 16% said they even have designated napping areas. Do those numbers seem a little bigger than expected? Not shocking once you consider the benefits of napping. A nap can provide a quick boost for alertness and improving motor performance, while frequent nappers lower tension, which can decrease heart disease risk. With major companies (especially those known for their great employee perks) gaining more publicity for their dedication to the nap game, look for napping rooms to become more prevalent. However, before you go to HR demanding an inexpensive napping pod. be aware that a nap room might not be the right solution for your company, as some companies have found their experiments actually hurt productivity, As with any wellness solution, it is recommended you take into account your company’s culture and employee needs.
Another new and innovative way to improve employees’ sleep and, ultimately, health and performance, is to reward them. Insurance company Aetna values a good night’s sleep so much that they’ve put a dollar figure on it. The company has started a program whereby, if an employee can prove they sleep 7+ hours a night for 20 nights, they will receive $25 a night, and up to $500 a year. CEO Mark Bertolini says that creating a culture that encourages workers to be more rested will ultimately help your business. Aetna claims they have seen 69 or more minutes a month of worker productivity just through investing in wellness and mindfulness.
As time goes on, people are discovering more and more how vital sleep is to a person’s physical, emotional and mental health. People who get adequate sleep are healthier, happier and more productive in both their personal and professional lives. While it may seem unconventional to invest in your employees rest, if it works for industry leaders (and even pro sports teams ), then shouldn’t you be doing it too?
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