Sleep deprivation is hurting the American workforce and causing employees to zone out during important meetings and crank out work of lower quality.
In November, Swan Medical’s "Sleep in Business America" study revealed that more than 50 percent of some 30,000 employees surveyed at five U.S. corporations didn't receive adequate sleep.
“Sleep loss adversely affects neurobehavioral function and leads to excessive daytime fatigue and sleepiness, which increases the risk of accidents caused by human error,” Rochester, Minn.- based Dr. Timothy Morgenthaler, president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, tells me in an email. “Sleep problems are also associated with short and long-term sick leave, resulting in yet lower productivity and higher costs.”
When employees don’t get adequate sleep at night, employers experience the fallout. The estimated cost of lost productivity associated with poor sleep quality is $2,280 a worker, according to a 2011 study of more than 7,000 employed health plan subscribers published by the Associated Professional Sleep Societies.
To improve workplace productivity, companies should assist employees in the quest for a better night's sleep. Here are just a few ways to improve employees’ sleep quality:
1. Implement a company program.
Virgin Pulse's 2013 study of three U.S. companies discovered 76 percent of more than 1,000 employees surveyed felt tired many days of the week. Fifteen percent dozed off at work once a week.
Jennifer Turgiss, vice president of health solutions at Framingham, Mass.-based Virgin Pulse, suggests employers should implement company-wide programs to improve employees’ sleep quality. “Employers can help employees improve sleep by developing sound policies and offering programs focused on improving sleep habits,” Turgiss writes me. “Educational and behavioral programs are also important offerings employers can provide to help employees improve their sleep habits.”
When designing a workplace program, invite sleep experts to visit the office throughout the month to counsel employees about their habits. Offer stipends for sleeping treatments, as part of a company’s wellness program. Stress-reducing treatments such as fitness memberships and massages can also help employees become more relaxed at work.
2. Provide helpful technology.
Employees who are more aware of their habits are more likely to improve their sleep quality. Tuscaloosa, Ala.-based Natalie Dautovich, an environmental scholar at the National Sleep Foundation, believes sleeping technology can make people more aware of their sleeping habits.
“There is the potential for sleep technology such as wearable technology to help employees understand and improve their sleep,” Dautovich writes me. “Sleep technology devices can help to increase our awareness of sleep, how sleep is related to many positive outcomes for our mental and physical functioning, and that we need to make it a priority.”
A number of startups have launched sleeping devices, such as Withings Aura and Sense, to help people track and monitor their sleeping habits. These devices are designed to identify why people don’t sleep soundly and the best time of day for waking up.
3. Create brighter workspaces.
Natural lighting helps employees sleep better at night, therefore making them more productive during the day. A 2013 study by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine found 49 daytime workers experienced a better quality of life after exposure to more daylight in the office. Additionally, employees with windows in their workplace received 173 percent more white light and slept on average 46 minutes more at night.
Not every employer can afford to redesign an office to bring in more natural light. But companies can make workplace improvements to boost light exposure.
Remove harsh artificial lights and replace them with natural lighting options. Gadgets such as Light Bandit can also brighten up a gloomy office or cubicle.
4. Eliminate workplace bullying.
An April study of more than 3,300 people by the National Research Center for the Working Environment discovered that people subjected to bullying in the workplace were more likely to report sleeping difficulties.
When employees are bullied or witness this type of behavior at work, the conflict keeps them up at night. Eliminate bullying by fostering workplace transparency. Encourage employees to report bullying and require managers to address conflict immediately.
5. Stem usage of mobiles device at home.
Use of mobile devices can have detrimental effects on sleep quality. A study released in November of 12 participants who spent two weeks in a Boston sleep-research lab discovered that using light-emitting e-reader devices can have negative effects on sleep quality.
Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Dr. Michelle Primeau, a sleep physician with the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, believes employers should create a work environment that values health and balance.
"With technology today, many people are expected to immediately reply to emails, or constantly be available for work related questions," Dr. Primeau suggests in an email. "Higher level management can set an example by having an ‘emergency phone’ or some arrangement of being available when absolutely necessary, but the expectation being that everything else can wait 'til morning."
Instead of letting employees bring the company's mobile devices home, require their use only in the office. This way, employers won’t be encouraging employees to use mobile devices off the clock.
Is your company striving to improve employees’ sleep quality?