Sleep is an essential part of a healthy life. One third of Americans suffers from a sleep disorder and cannot get a good night’s sleep. For many people, sleep disorders are severe enough to cause serious, even life threatening medical problems. Scientists have linked lack of sleep to a long list of medical problems, including obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes. But for even more Americans a constant lack of sleep isn’t just affecting their health- it’s affecting their personal relationships and professional productivity.
A CVS Caremark study in 2007 estimated that fatigue affects worker productivity to the tune of $136 billion a year. Workers who have not slept experience a decline in alertness and decision making that results in more on-site accidents and mistakes. The dangers are aggravated for overnight, or shift, workers, such as bus and truck drivers, who are going against the grain of natural circadian rhythms. These dangers have been well-publicized lately by national news reports of napping air traffic controllers and the recent, fatal bus crash outside of Richmond (attributed to the driver’s lack of sleep).
The CVS Caremark study, which surveyed nearly 29,000 people, found that 38 percent reported “low levels of energy, poor sleep or a feeling of fatigue” within the past two weeks. However, even these numbers may be understatements; according to a survey of 1,000 workers in November by Philips Consumer Lifestyle, 85 percent acknowledged they would be more productive if they slept more.
“Human beings are generally set up for being awake during the day and asleep at night,” said Dr. Anne Redding, medical director of Bon Secours’ Sleep Disorders Center. “What happens when people work nights is that they don’t have the light to stimulate them when they’re working and they don’t have the dark when they’re sleeping, so their bodies get confused.”
So how can employers help keep their workers awake? Bon Secours’ Redding said bosses should keep workers busy. “If you’re in the middle of something that is very complicated and intense, you’re going to be awake.” Physicians also recommend allowing for naps during worker “break” times and educating workers about proper sleep preparation techniques. Workers, scientists said, can help themselves by maintaining regular sleep schedules and avoiding bright lights and stimulants such as exercise and caffeine before bedtime.
To avoid the health and safety dangers of sleep deprivation, researchers say everyone should try to get a full night’s sleep, which for most people runs 7 to 8½ hours. And you should keep your sleep schedules consistent – even on your days off and if you work overnight. Other tips include:
- Avoid exercise, nicotine, and caffeine at night before you go to sleep.
These stimulants will keep you up if you consume them too close to bedtime. Moreover, consuming too many stimulating substances during the day can prevent you from resting well at night.
- Pay attention to lighting when you go to sleep and rise.
Keep lights low in the evening and your bedroom pitch-dark when you sleep, and try to expose yourself to bright light after you wake up.
- Temperature is important.
When it comes to the bedroom cooler (around 65-67 degrees) is better. A hot bath or a dip in a jacuzzi before bedtime will raise body temperature. When you go to bed, it’ll start dropping, hastening sleep.
- Consider a small dosage of over-the-counter melatonin every night.
“Three milligrams is more than enough,” said Dr. Anne Redding, the medical director of Bon Secours’ sleep lab. Some researchers, though, say the effectiveness of over-the-counter melatonin can vary widely. Always talk to your physician before taking a drug.
Source: Virginian Pilot “Lack of Sleep Hurts Job Performance”