Lack of sleep costly, dangerous in workplace

Lack of sleep costly, dangerous in workplace


We all have our good and bad days on the job, but, have you thought about how much of this can be influenced by lack of sleep. Many jobs require complete attention to detail, no room for error. Think about the surgeon, pilot, crane operator, electrician, engineer of a train and the list goes on.

When employees don't get adequate sleep, it doesn't just result in performing like a zombie, there can be serious consequences for employees and employers.

A Harvard Medical School study in the Archives of General Psychiatry found insomnia also attributes to workplace errors and accidents. With 1 in 5 of the study participants displaying symptoms of insomnia, 43% admitted to having made serious error or experiencing an accident in the past year. Some estimates put the costs to employers at $31.1 billion in workplace accidents.

According to Mark Raymond, BS, REEGT with Mercy Medical Neurophysiology and Sleep Lab, "the effect on the workplace from lack of sleep is not only expensive but getting only four hours of sleep nightly for a week might be akin to the equivalent to a blood alcohol level of .1 percent -- possibly making it safer to be drunk than sleep impaired once you reach a certain level."

"In my business of attaching electrodes to heads for EEG's or monitoring sleep, there probably wouldn't be consequences that would be considered dangerous other than misplacing some monitors; however, if you're an engineer of a train, the consequences could be deadly if you drifted off to sleep,' Raymond says.

Dr. Matthew Walker, a sleep scientist at the University of California, Berkley says "we've learned that sleep before learning helps prepare your brain for initial formation of memories. "And then, sleep after learning is essential to help save and cement that new information into the architecture of the brain, meaning that you're less likely to forget it."

While you snooze, your brain cycles through different phases of sleep, including light sleep, deep sleep, and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, when dreaming often occurs. The cycles repeat about every 90 minutes.

The non-REM stages of sleep seem to prime the brain for good learning the next day. If you did not get adequate sleep, your ability to learn new things could decrease by up to 40 percent. "You can't pull an all-nighter and still learn effectively," Walker says. Lack of sleep affects a part of the brain called the hippocampus, which is key for making new memories.

We accumulate many memories, moment by moment, while we are awake. Most will be forgotten during the day. According to sleep expert Dr. Robert Stickgold of Harvard Medical School, "when we first form memories, they are in a very raw and fragile form." But when you doze off, "sleep seems to be a privileged time when the brain goes back through recent memories and decides both what to keep and what not to keep," Stickgold explains. "During a night of sleep, some memories are strengthened."

Memories seem to become more stable in the brain during the deep stages of sleep. After that, REM (the most active stage of sleep) seems to play a role in linking together related memories, sometimes in unexpected ways. That is why a full night of sleep may help with problem solving.

A 2012 report from the CDC estimated that 1 in 3 working Americans do not get enough sleep. Often, insomnia results from anxiety or stress, but it can also stem from an underlying condition, such as pain disorders, causing sleep difficulties.

Sleep Hygiene Tips adapted from the National Sleep Foundation:

1. Go to bed at the same time each night and rise at the same time each morning.

2. Avoid large meals before bedtime.

3. Avoid caffeine and alcohol close to bedtime.

4. Avoid nicotine.

Solution: Worksite sleep education programs, screening for medication problems that can cause insomnia, referral to sleep specialist.

Sources: Mercy Medical Sleep Lab, Health-e-headlines January 2014, Welcoa's online self-care bulletin, CDC website

So now we know how vital a good night's sleep is for good health and safety. Take time to figure out what is interfering with your sleep and move forward on getting the problem resolved. Speak with you Physician if you feel medications or a medical issue may be interfering with your sleep. You may want to consider health coaching to assist with this goal.

Deb Twyford is a Registered Nurse and Intrinsic Coach with Mercy Business Health Worksite Wellness. Contact her at or 712-274-4334.


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