How Can Employers Help Workers Get Better Sleep and Increase Lifespans?

How Can Employers Help Workers Get Better Sleep and Increase Lifespans?

Sleep deprivation can affect our energy levels, productivity levels, and our livelihoods. Here’s how employers might be able to help.

Sleep deprivation can affect our energy levels, productivity levels, and our livelihoods. Here’s how employers might be able to help.

Sleeping on the job is, obviously, a no-no. However, sleep does affect our ability to work productivity and safely, but work schedules and projects can negatively affect our sleep. There is substantial evidence out there on how sleep affects a person’s mental health, physical health, and mood—among other things. But what are the ways sleep affects us at work, and what can employers do about it?

One Mic article by Leslie Hammer and Lindsey Alley dive into the topic. They talk about how sleep deprivation—and work-related injury or death as a consequence—is higher among particular types of workers including police officers, firefighters, truck drivers and healthcare workers.

This year, one long-haul truck driver fell asleep during his shift while heading north on Route 147 in Sunbury Pennsylvania. He drifted into the eastbound shoulder for almost 375 feet, struck the side of the road and flipped his rig. Thankfully, he suffered a minor injury and no others were harmed.

This kind of situation, though, is not uncommon. Poor sleep affects nearly 70 percent of Americans every month, and 11 percent of Americans report insufficient sleep every night. Poor sleep is caused by everything from high stress to unhealthy lifestyles to various kinds of sleep disorders. In fact, there are over 80 different sleep disorders—some are consistent and others intermittent.

Poor sleep increases the risk of shortened lifespan and death, and it has been linked to an increase in road accidents, stroke, and reduced cardiovascular health.

Leslie Hammer, co-director at the Oregon Health Workforce Center, has been working with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to explore the relationship between supervisor support and employee sleep. They have some notable findings.

The Workplace Costs of Sleep Deprivation
If a tired worker has trouble being productive and motivated to do his or her work during the day, it’s no surprised that sleep deprivation also affects a worker’s ability to concentrate on workplace safety guidelines. In fact, sleep deprivation increases the chances of workplace injuries by 70 percent because its effect are dangerous things like impaired memory, motor skills and decision-making.

If a person gets injured on the job, this can mean days away from work and potentially high workers’ compensation claims. When sleep deprivation is linked to other health issues like heart disease, the negative consequences of tired employees suddenly is very high for employers.

The US loses more than $135 billion annually as a result of workers with inadequate sleep, according to the American Safety Council.

While individuals do have some power over their own sleep help, the reality is, employers and workplaces play a huge role, too. Employers do have the low-cost, easy ability to help workers get adequate sleep and reduce chances of workplace injuries.

A study by MySlumberYard titled The Sleep Study: Shocking Facts and Statistics explores everything you need to know about sleep and its affects on your mental, physical and workplace health.

Supervisor Support Training
Hammer and her team published a study in February of 2019 that looked at the impact of supervisor support training intervention on employee sleep. The participants were made up of 56 study groups with over 791 employees in a Fortune 500 information technology firm.

Half of the study groups attended in-person group meetings to identify new ways to increase control over their own work schedules. The supervisors and managers in those same groups received additional in-person family-supportive supervisor training to better support employees’ family and non-work lives. Family-supportive supervisor trainings teach supervisors and managers to promote a healthy balance between work and non-work, and to provide emotional support and appropriate resources.

Participants reported their time asleep, how rested they felt upon waking, and any inability they had to fall asleep. They also wore sleep tracking watches to measure their actual time spent sleeping.

The researchers noted that this study did not focus on training individual to sleep better. It only focused on providing employees more control over where and when they work and informing supervisors on how to reduce work demands and better support employees’ work-life balance.

The researchers found that improving a worker’s work-life balance can tremendously benefit employees’ sleep. In fact, their study showed that both sleep quantity and quality increased up to 18 months after the training.

Researchers also noted that this study highlights the fact that supporting employee sleep does not mean committing to a full sleep program (which includes sleep leadership training, establishment of nap rooms and employee training on sleep hygiene).

Instead, organizations can commit to training supervisors to better support workers’ work, family, health, and well-being—and keep them safe on the job.  

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