The Exxon Valdez disaster. Nine Mile Island. The Challenger explosion. Chernobyl.
Sleep deprivation has been linked to each of these disasters, as well as many more.
When lives are on the line, sleep deprivation can result in deadly mistakes. But even if your employees handle reports instead of reactors, sleep deprivation can do a number on their health and their job performance.
And while our culture may often treat chronic lack of sleep as a perverse badge of honor, its harmful effects make it something we should avoid, not emulate. (And those people who claim to “need” only four hours of sleep a night? They’re probably lying to themselves.)
Here are three major ways in which sleep deprivation is harming your employees and your company, and what you can do to support your staff in getting the rest they need.
Reduced Cognitive Function
Even one night of not-enough sleep can make people feel groggy and slow on the uptake. When sleep deprivation becomes chronic, it can have serious negative effects on attention, alertness, concentration, reasoning, and problem solving.
Every one of these elements are vital to your workplace’s performance. No matter how devoted your employees may be, they simply won’t be able to focus, ideate, or solve problems as well when they’re lacking the rest they need. This isn’t hyperbole; their brain cells actually slow down and struggle to communicate with each other.
Impaired Relations and Morale
We’ve all seen small children have meltdowns when they’re overtired. And while you typically don’t see adults in the workplace lying on the carpet and screaming, it doesn’t mean we’re not similarly affected by a lack of sleep.
A review of the available data concluded:
When an individual is sleep deprived, a functional deficit occurs between the amygdala and the ventral anterior cingulate cortex (vACC), which can result in decreased mood and can cause the amygdala to have heightened responses to negative stimuli. Sleep debt reduces the ability of the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) to suppress activity in the amygdala, leading to emotional instability.
Now, picture the effect of having a workplace full of sleep-deprived people with short fuses. People snap at each other, show less patience and cooperation, and make hasty judgments. Does this sound like a workplace that’s thriving?
Sleep deprivation doesn’t just make employees slow and cranky—it makes them expensive too, costing the economy up to $411 billion a year in the US alone due to factors like absenteeism and lost production.
A chronic lack of sleep can also drive up employers’ healthcare costs. Sleep deprivation has been strongly linked to a laundry list of health conditions, including:
- Colorectal cancer
- Depression and other mental health conditions
- Colds and flus
With that increased risk of illnesses and conditions comes an increase in health claims, driving up the costs for employers.
What Employers Can Do About Sleep Deprivation
In some cases, your employees may be sleep deprived due to bad habits. Or, they may suffer from insomnia or a too-busy schedule. No matter what, there are ways that your company and your wellness program can help encourage better rest:
Raise Awareness About Sleep
Employees may not even realize that they’re sleep-deprived, so instituting wellness challenges like Sweet Dreams (tracking your sleep) and Lights Out (going to bed at the same time every night) can get staffers thinking about whether they actually are getting enough rest and are the great first step toward health sleep habits.
Encourage Device Shutdown
Watching TV, working late on our laptops, or playing just one more round of Candy Crush—it’s all interfering with our ability to sleep. And it makes sense when you think about it: How easy can it be to fall asleep if two minutes beforehand, you’re shining a bright blue light of pure information directly into your eyeballs?
Consider a wellness challenge like Shut Down, which encourages eschewing all media one hour before bed. Employees can catch up on some reading, meditate, or enjoy some relaxing music, signaling to their brain that it’s time to wind things down.
Support Their Rest
It’s all well and good to tell employees to get more rest, but if managers are piling on unreasonable deadlines and extra work … well, when is it supposed to get done? Meet with managers to discuss the ways sleep deprivation is negatively impacting the organization and find ways to ensure that employees don’t generally have more work than they’re able to complete during their working hours.
Oh, and while you’re having that discussion, consider a kibosh on after-hours work-related emails or texts unless there’s a serious emergency.
Sleep is often the first thing to be sacrificed when life gets busy. But the effects can be seriously detrimental to our bodies, our minds, and our workplaces. By encouraging and supporting healthy sleep habits in your employees, you’ll have a staff that’s energized, creative, productive, and glowing with wellness.