Slideshow Sleep deprivation: What it costs employers and how to combat its effects

Published
  • November 22 2015, 12:05am EST

Insufficient sleep is a public health problem, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, with some estimates pegging the economic cost for employers in the billions. Maxis Global Benefit Network outlines a number of myths and costs associated with sleep loss, along with some simple strategies employers can use to incorporate sleep into their wellness program.


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1. Myth: Catching up on lost sleep over the weekend

Some research shows that while some of the negative effects of minor sleep deprivation (e.g., stress, daytime drowsiness or low-grade inflammation) can be reversed by “catching up” on the weekend, not all negative effects can be reversed, including “behavioral alertness” or “psychomotor vigilance,” which is the ability to focus, pay attention, remember or process information.


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2. Myth: Needing sleep is a sign of weakness

In our hyper-connected, 24/7 world, sleep has become devalued, with the average amount of sleep employees get steadily decreasing. Today, people sleep about two hours less per night than they did about 50 years ago, says Maxis.


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3. Myth: A lack of sleep won’t kill you

While it’s next to impossible to study the total cumulative effects of sleep loss on humans, in a study done in the 1980s rats were deprived of sleep and every single one of them died as a result, despite having adequate food and water.


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4. Poor sleep is a risk factor for injuries, mistakes at work

Fatigued employees display greater willingness to take risks, ignoring normal checks and procedures and displaying a relatively careless attitude, according to Maxis.


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5. Lack of sleep a primary reason for lost productivity

In the U.S., lost productivity from sleep and insufficient rest is estimated at $2,280 in productivity on an individual level, and $63.2 billion across the entire American workforce.


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6. Less sleep means more absenteeism/presenteeism

Studies have suggested that sleep loss can lead to the issue of higher levels of presenteeism and absenteeism at the workplace. For example, Maxis says, a Finnish study reported adults who say they sleep between seven and eight hours per night miss fewer work days due to sickness than others. Some behaviors of sleep deprived employees include increased distraction and poor cognitive assimilation and memory.


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7. Insufficient sleep increases health care costs

Researchers in the U.S. estimate that a company can expect to spend more than $3,200 per employee, per year in total health costs due to sleep deprivation, according to the Maxis report.


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8. The wellness of sleep

Employers looking to help combat sleep loss can educate their employees about the dangers of sleep loss and encourage employees to put better practices in place. Employers can include sleep education in their wellness programs through sharing the science behind sleep deprivation, and celebrating sleep through a “Take back our sleep week,” says Maxis.


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9. Embrace a nap policy

More and more businesses are promoting on-the-job napping as a way to improve productivity, Maxis says. According to a 2010 study published in the journal Cognition, even short breaks at work – like naps – significantly increase employee engagement with their work.


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10. Make schedules predictable

Restructuring workloads and schedules can have a big impact on sleep normalcy, Maxis says. Three of the top methods of helping create normalcy include:
•tBreaks: Offer longer or more frequent breaks.
•tFlextime: Provide flextime with a running bank to draw from.
•tTelecommuting: Telecommuting lowers stress levels and saves time on commutes.


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