Some of the world’s top managers often like to boast about how they need only 4 or 5 hours of sleep – but is it realistic to expect the same from their employees and, most importantly, is it healthy for anyone? The latter is easily answered – generally speaking, less than 6 or 7 hours of sleep a night increases the mortality risk by 13% and the likelihood of obesity by 30% (Business In the Community – Sleep & recovery – U.K. 2018).
The same report shows that as many as 200,000 working days are lost each year due to sleep deprivation in the UK equalling an annual cost of around £30bn – all down to a lack of sleep. A similar study by RAND Corporation in the USA in 2016 reported an annual cost of around $411bn equalling the loss of around 1.23 billion working days.
Photo by Luis Villasmil
A study based on a sample of 130 middle-aged workers of a US IT firm showed that as little as 16 minutes of lost sleep can had a negative impact on employee cognitive performance and productivity. Another study by the same research team found that poor sleep can lead to experiencing more stressors and impact on the overall mental health the next day. Not getting enough rest at night not only results in higher stress, low mood and anxiety, but it also causes cognitive interference, i.e. sudden distracting thoughts, higher potential for conflict as well as trouble making decisions or a tendency to make mistakes.
In addition to the cost of missed days due to sleep issues, studies have also shown that errors made as a result of insomnia are on average $20,976 more expensive than “regular” mistakes. In the UK, for those working night shifts there is a 25-30% increase in risk of injury compared to those with more standard and steady day jobs which again shows the impact that an irregular or disrupted sleep cycle can have on the workforce.
Mental and physical health issues due to lack of sleep are of course not limited to shift work, similar sleep disruption can result from simply working in different time zones, the need to be available after-hours, a bad relationship with a colleague or any personal life pressures outside of work such as health issues, debt and life events.
What becomes very apparent from the global studies on the subject of insomnia and its effect on employees is that its impact is felt imminently and causes physical, as well as mental health and ultimately economic issues. It is therefore highly important for employers to ensure a work environment and employee support system that encourages healthy sleep and recovery patterns while acknowledging the effect of too much stress and pressure.
In an upcoming article “Help your team get better sleep”, we will explore what employers can do to ensure a well-rested, happy, healthy and productive work environment.
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