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April 29, 2014
Is your employees' sleep deprivation compromising safety?

The results of a study by The Virgin Pulse Institute, designed to better understand employees’ sleep disturbances and offer actionable insight to both employers and their workforce, had some startling results.

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The Virgin Pulse Institute conducted a sleep study in November 2013 with approximately 1,140 employees from three U.S.-based companies. Researchers found that:

  • 76 percent of employees felt tired most days of the week;
  • 40 percent of employees doze off during the day once per month;
  • 30 percent of employees were unhappy or very unhappy with the quality or quantity of their sleep; and
  • 15 percent doze off during the day at least once per week to once per day.

Dr. Jennifer Turgiss, a co-author of the study and director of the Virgin Pulse Institute, said, “Showing up to work sleep deprived can be the equivalent of showing up to work intoxicated. “Employees who don’t sleep well have poorer concentration, poorer decision making abilities, are significantly less able to cope with stressful situations, and are more likely to make unhealthy choices.

“The effects of poor sleep impair people’s focus and motivation, preventing them from reaching their full potential. In attempts to encourage employees to live healthier, often employers—with the help of their health insurers or wellness vendors—focus on simply improving diet and exercise, but this approach ignores one critically important habit: sleep. With its direct link to dangerous health conditions and steep productivity losses, a well-rested workforce is critical to a company’s success.”

Effect of sleep problems

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has called lack of sleep “an epidemic,” linking it to motor vehicle crashes, industrial disasters, and other occupational errors. Many other studies have found employees who sleep fewer than 6 hours per day are nearly 30 percent more likely to be overweight and have a whole host of health problems like hypertension, diabetes, depression and cancer.

These people also take a tremendous cognitive hit on a daily basis, finding it difficult to concentrate at work or complete tasks, resulting in significantly lower productivity. Sleep disturbances cause fatigue-related productivity losses estimated at $1,967 per employee annually, according to a study published in the journal Sleep.

For employees who drive on the job, operate machinery, or perform other safety-sensitive tasks, sleep deprivation can be particularly dangerous. The National Sleep Foundation’s 2012 Sleep in America poll, which focused on transportation workers, found that about one-fourth of train operators and pilots admitted that sleepiness affected their job performance at least once a week, as did about one in six non-transportation workers.

What causes sleep problems?

The Virgin Pulse Institute study found four key themes keeping employees awake at night: worry/stress, mental activity, physical discomfort and environmental disruptors. Many factors within these categories kept participants awake, including:

  • Temperature too high or too low (85.2%)
  • Their partner (71.9%)
  • Unwanted noise (68.6%)
  • Light (52.8%)
  • Mattress (40%)
  • Young children (35.9%)
  • Medical condition that disturbs sleep (10.2%)

Sleep deprivation was found to have impacts across four key areas: physical well-being; cognitive abilities and productivity; mood; and stress management. Lack of sleep leaves employees less focused on the job and unable to perform at their peak, and leaves them experiencing a decreased feeling of overall well-being, according to the Institute study.

Participants noted that lack of sleep impacted their energy and motivation to participate in physical activities and eat healthy foods. They experienced difficulty concentrating at work or remembering tasks, and felt more irritable at work and home. Sleeplessness also made it harder to manage stress, further impacting their difficulties sleeping.

“Our study made one thing clear: lack of sleep is crippling America’s workforce. Employers can’t turn a blind eye. Whether they offer an online sleep program, encourage employees to use vacation days, or provide other tools, employers must address sleep issues in order to create a thriving workforce and business,” said Turgiss. “Not only will employees be more rested, but they’ll feel more supported by their employers, helping them perform better and become better able to engage in work and in life.”

For the complete study, go to http://connect.virginpulse.com/asleep-on-the-job-report-from-virgin-pulse.pdf.

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