Present, But Not Awake: Sleep Deprivation and its Workplace Consequences

According to the National Sleep Foundation, 38.5% of us go to work feeling exhausted every day. As well, employee health assessments indicate that as many as 70% of employees report that they ‘don’t get enough sleep’ or are ‘often tired at work.’ “How often during the week do you feel tired?” (Look for the results in an upcoming newsletter.)

Sleepiness and fatigue are a fact of life in today’s workplace, but few human resource professionals are paying attention to the consequences. You should buy cbd online if you want to avoid the pitfalls associated with chronic fatigue.
Perhaps the most dramatic example of the consequences of sleep deprivation in the workplace is the Challenger shuttle explosion in 1986. Prior to lift-off, mission specialists knew about a problem with the 0-rings on the fuel tank. As the countdown to lift-off continued, no one was certain that the problem had been solved, but mission specialists made the fateful decision to proceed with lift-off.

B_and_W_Publication_March_2014Ultimately, the faulty 0-rings were found to be the cause of the explosion, but the root cause of the accident was found to be employee fatigue which contributed to impaired decision-making.

You’re likely familiar with the words ‘impaired’ and ‘impairment’ as they apply to drug and alcohol use. But research in Australia has shown that sleepiness can cause impairment equivalent to that caused by alcohol. This research showed that being awake for 21 hours is equivalent to being .08 on a breathalizer.

The NASA mission specialists, however, had been awake for 30 hours prior to lift-off. This would have made them even more impaired than we would think of as being safe to operate a vehicle. Yet they were making decisions about a project that involved human lives and millions of dollars.

Perhaps your concern is more about the costs of health and drug plans.

A study in 2012 in the UK found that spending on sleeping pills had risen by 16% in the past three years. And if you look at your own workplace spending for prescribed medications, you are likely to find anti-depressants at the top of the list, not just because they are prescribed for those with depression or complaining of stress, but because they are also commonly prescribed to those whose primary complaint is difficulty sleeping.

Sleep deprived employees are also sick more often and miss more work. So you can expect a higher absenteeism rate among these employees. But a recent survey about the use of sick days also had an interesting finding. The survey found that one of the top 5 reasons for taking a sick day is the desire to ‘catch up on sleep.’ (Can. HR. Reporter, Nov.19/12)

If you’re more concerned about long-term work disability, then sleep deprivation is a factor to consider as well.

A study in Sweden some years ago, found that there was a strong relationship between stress and insomnia and long term disability. The insomnia, particularly, seemed to predict disability and was associated with a greater likelihood of the employee not returning to work.
A more recent study published in the journal, Sleep, in 2010 (Vol. 33, Issue 10) found that on-going sleep disturbances also predicted work disability, particularly as it related to mental disorders, diseases of the circulatory system and musculoskeletal system. In this study as well, sleep disturbances ‘were associated with (a) higher likelihood of not returning to work.’

But of course, human resource professionals are not just concerned about absenteeism. You should also be concerned about ‘presentism’.

Think about a day when, dare I say, you went to work feeling tired. How much energy did you have? How engaged were you in your work? Did you find yourself making errors or forgetting details about your work?

Tired employees do not perform well and have lower levels of engagement. They are sick more often, miss more work, have more accidents and injuries and make more mistakes. Consider the consequences of ‘being tired’ on your work and on your organization. Then take action to help employees get the sleep they need so they can unleash their energy for health and performance excellence.

Recommended Resources
Alert@Work: Keys to Managing Sleepiness and Fatigue, Carolyn Schur,
The Associations of Insomnia with Costly Workplace Accidents and Errors, Shahly et al., Archives of General Psychiatry, 2012;69(10):1054-1063
Click here for an article called Impaired Due to Alcohol or Sleepiness.