How to help employees combat sleeplessness

For many, the past year has been characterized by unexpected change and additional stress. As a result, sleep physicians around the world are now treating a growing number of patients with symptoms of insomnia.

According to Express Scripts, a major pharmacy benefit manger, prescriptions for sleep medications increased 15% between February and March of 2020.

Risks of sleeplessness

When employees don’t get adequate sleep, injuries are often the result of:

  • Loss of muscle coordination
  • Increased risk of dropping things
  • Stumbling and falling
  • Impaired memory, attention, judgment and concentration
  • Difficulty making decisions, processing complex data and regulating emotions
  • Greater distractibility

Work-related causes of sleeplessness

The current economic environment may also be contributing to lack of sleep.

Now more than ever, many employees are becoming increasingly concerned about job security. For some, working from home is an additional stressor introduced in 2020.

Those who work outside of the home face a different set of unique challenges.

Shift workers commonly get less than the recommended amount of sleep, averaging around five-and-a-half hours, rather than the recommended seven. A study from the American Journal of Industrial Medicine reported that workers with afternoon shifts had a 15% higher risk of injury compared to morning shift workers, and night shift workers had an increased risk of 28%.

Additionally, they also experience higher occurrence of car crashes, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer.

Long hours also show increased risk of injury due to fatigue. Workers with shifts longer than 10 hours have a 13% higher risk of injury, and those with shifts longer than 12 hours have a 28% higher risk.

What can I do?

As an employer, there are ways you can help ensure your employees are getting the recommended amount of sleep.

Teach your employees about the risks associated with insufficient sleep and how they can create healthy sleep habits.

Ways to combat lack of sleep include:

  • Have a consistent sleep schedule by going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at the same time every morning.
  • Create a bedtime routine to help the body unwind and grow accustomed to a sleep schedule.

Things like warm showers or baths, soothing music and noncaffeinated, herbal teas may help.

  • Sleep in a cool, quiet, comfortable and dark room.
  • Get outside during daylight hours to help reset your body’s natural sleep and wake cycles.
  • Limit use of technology during the hours before bedtime. Most electronics use blue light, which decreases the body’s production of melatonin and boosts attention, making the body want to stay awake. Additionally, engagement in things like social media and email can make it more difficult to unwind.
  • Get regular exercise.
  • Avoid caffeine for at least six hours prior to going to sleep.

You can also take measures to make sure your workplace isn’t causing sleep issues for your employees. Some suggestions include:

  • Limit shift work as much as possible.
  • Minimize overtime, especially if it’s forced.
  • Avoid permanent placement on the night shift.
  • Give workers as much choice as possible for shift start times.
  • Address stressful workplace conditions such as lighting, temperature, noise and access to food.

While there may be a cultural expectation to sacrifice sleep, it doesn’t have to be a part of your organization’s culture. Emphasizing the importance of sleep will benefit your company and your employees in the long run.

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