The cost of a poor night’s sleep

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The average person needs at least 7 ½ hours of sleep a night, but research suggests that one in four Kiwis don’t get enough shut-eye and only 17% consistently sleep through the night. Should HR be concerned?
Long term lack of sleep is related to serious physical and mental health problems such as depression, obesity, heart disease and stroke, but the short term consequences could be just as bad.
Job Safety
Sleep deprivation was a factor in some of the biggest disasters in recent history: the 1979 nuclear accident at Three Mile Island, the massive Exxon Valdez oil spill, the 1986 nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl, and others.
If you work for a manufacturing, construction or other potentially hazardous industry this could be a big problem in your workplace. An estimated hundred thousand motor vehicle accidents a year are related to sleep deprivation.
One study found workers who complained about excessive daytime sleepiness had significantly more work accidents, particularly repeated work accidents. They also had more sick days per accident.
Gregory Belenky, a psychiatrist who now heads the Sleep and Performance Research Centre at Washington State University in Spokane, found people who got seven hours of sleep a night performed much worse on a simple reflexes test than those who got eight to nine hours.
The subjects reported that they were not feeling impaired, despite their falling scores, indicating that you cannot always tell when you’re affected by sleep deprivation. And catching up on your days off isn’t likely to help.
“It takes several weeks to get performance back,” Dr Belenky says. “And it isn’t enough to sleep in on the weekends.”
Researcher Mark Rosekind studied the effect of disturbed sleep with a group that got 6.4 hours sleep and worked 9.5 hours a day, on average. His study found those with disturbed sleep patterns “had significantly greater decrements in their ability to perform work tasks.” The group with insomnia had the lowest performance.
If you’re organization operates on shift work this could be especially bad – workers with irregular work schedules were also consistently poor performers.
What can you do?
While you can’t monitor what time your workers go to bed, you can be aware of the impact and help communicate that to your staff. Monitor which employees are constantly showing signs of fatigue and try to adjust workloads and schedules to allow them more opportunities for rest.
While sleeping on the job is usually considered a bad thing, many bigger companies are acknowledging the power of the nap. Some large companies in China have enforced nap time, while Google invested in $10,000 nap chairs for its head office. Studies have shown a 15 minute nap is more effective than a cup of coffee for afternoon productivity so consider the feasibility of a nap room in your workplace.
Related articles:
The science of sleep: Should you allow work naps?
Blog: Why NZ is low in productivity

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