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30 Sep 2019

Why a lack of sleep can have a serious impact on your work life

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Sleep expert Dr. Neil Stanley explains why getting enough shut-eye is so important for your career

Over the years occupational medicine has demonstrated the importance and benefits of addressing a variety of health issues in the workplace (e.g. cardiovascular disease, smoking, alcohol use, diabetes and back problems). However, it is only recently that insomnia and sleep disturbances have started to be recognised as detriments to workplace wellbeing and safety.

Estimates show that approximately 15% of the workforce may suffer from insomnia or sleep disturbance. Studies have shown that mean productivity loss was significantly higher for a group of workers suffering insomnia (6.1%) compared to those who were good sleepers (2.5%). Workers with insomnia reported highly negative effects of sleepiness or fatigue at work with significantly greater negative effects of fatigue on attention, decision-making, memory, and motivation at work. Similar negative effects were also seen in these workers for the ability to concentrate, social functioning, and communication.

Such effects of course have a significant effect on performance but they also have an economic cost too — one study estimates productivity loss for insomniacs to be $3156 compared to $1293 for good sleepers. There is also a cost to employers due to increased absenteeism; research found that employees with insomnia were absent from work an average of 11.5 days per year, compared with only 7 days per year for good sleepers. Extra costs related to increased absenteeism among employees with insomnia were estimated at €1472 per year and employers bore most of this cost.

Work

There are a number of steps employers and employees can take to address workplace sleepiness related to sleep disturbances. Some evidence shows that workplace flexibility (allowing more flexible work start and end times) may contribute to positive lifestyle behaviours. Researchers have also shown that allowing for “unwinding” time between work and home improves sleep patterns. Employers can also play a role in educating workers about the importance of sleep and how to effectively and safely manage sleep loss/fatigue through a variety of proven strategies, including naps, better managed work demands, regular exercise, and instructing them on the basics of good sleep habits.

However, that said the employee also has a role to play in ensuring that they have had sufficient sleep and turn up to work fit for work. The boss may expect you to work long hours, you may have a long commute to and from work — but it is your choice to binge watch the latest blockbuster series on Netflix.

For the average person who needs eight hours of sleep to function effectively, getting fewer hours has a similar effect to drinking alcohol. The below is a rough guide for the eight-hour sleeper: getting the following number of hours' sleep is equivalent to consuming a number of 500ml beers:

• 6 h sleep ≈ 2 beers
• 4 h sleep ≈ 4 beers
• 2 h sleep ≈ 5 beers
• 0 h sleep ≈ 7 beers

Turning up to work under the influence of alcohol would be a disciplinary offence in most workplaces and yet people turn up to work sleepy, even though the impairment of their performance is the same.

Good sleep leads to increased productivity, profitability, wellbeing, safety and health.

Sleep well, live better.

Dr Neil Stanley is sleep consultant for FUTURE designs. He took part in Welltek during London Design Festival, giving one-to-one consultations at Office Blueprint's Office Spa. Office Blueprint has a selection of furniture designed to improve wellbeing in the office, including N.A.P the neuron activation pod designed to aid rest, relaxation and rejuvenation.

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