In the hustle and bustle of our lives, sleep often takes a back seat to work demands, social obligations and the ever-present glow of screens. How many times this year have you found yourself burning the midnight oil, playing catch-up?

The realm of sleep plays a pivotal role in shaping our overall health and well-being. While we navigate our intricate daily routines into the new year, one specific goal should be included among everyone’s New Year’s resolutions: prioritizing quality sleep.

“For years, society has glorified sleep deprivation. From high-profile, successful business owners who proclaim to only need five hours of sleep to strategies like The 5 AM Club, people have started to believe that getting less sleep means more success,” wrote Lana Walsh, a sleep and insomnia expert. “The reality is quite the opposite.” Walsh’s article “From Zzz’s to A’s: Sleep’s Impact on Productivity and Health” in the November/December issue of Plans & Trusts looked at the impact of chronic tiredness on our sustained productivity and optimal mental well-being.

Walsh noted that sleep deprivation amounts to billions of dollars in lost productivity per year, referring to a study from 2009, “Association of Insomnia with Quality of Life, Work Productivity, and Activity Impairment.” This study revealed that individuals experiencing insomnia reported a 10.3% decrease in productive time due to absenteeism and presenteeism. For those dealing with a concurrent medical or mental health condition, this percentage surged to 24.2%.

Furthermore, Walsh referenced a RAND research study that estimated the overall economic toll of sleep deprivation on lost productivity, heightened accidents, errors, increased health care expenses and more at a staggering figure of up to $411 billion in the United States and $21.4 billion in Canada.

Addressing societal attitudes toward sleep, Walsh remarked, “Our society tends to downplay the significance of sleep, and various excuses persist despite the tangible impact on our well-being. From phrases like ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead’ to ‘It’s just the way I am,’ we’ve normalized chronic fatigue.”

Fatigue: Is It Becoming Your New Normal?

There are times when being tired is normal; stress can contribute to restless nights for even good sleepers. 

But when should you start to worry that your fatigue is abnormal? Sometimes, novel fatigue and fatigue that persists for over two to four weeks can indicate a medical condition. 

Walsh recommended asking yourself three questions to determine whether you get enough sleep:

  • Do I need an alarm to wake up in the morning?
  • Do I frequently nod off during tedious, sedentary tasks like reading, driving or sitting in a meeting?
  • Do I need to sleep in on the weekends to catch up on my sleep?

If you answer yes to these questions, you may not be giving yourself enough time to sleep. Walsh suggested to first try going to bed half an hour earlier for a week at a time until you can answer “no” to these questions.

“When people suffer from chronic sleeplessness, they get frustrated about not sleeping. They get anxious that the lack of sleep will affect their health. They’re stressed because they can’t function as well and, worse, lack the motivation to get things done,” said Walsh.

What Can Be Done?

Walsh recommended that employers offer support for their employees, such as organizing monthly wellness events or initiating challenges to motivate them to stay active—a crucial element that promotes good sleep and overall well-being. It is advisable to incorporate a regular agenda item in staff meetings dedicated to educating employees about the available benefits that contribute to optimizing their health. Plan sponsors should evaluate their current benefits plan and explore including wellness spending accounts to ensure that employees can take advantage of alternative health providers, fitness facilities, and other nontraditional products and services.

Resolve to Prioritize Sleep

Walsh advised establishing clear boundaries for work, especially for those working remotely. This involves disabling notifications, shutting down computers, muting collaboration apps and allocating at least 15 minutes to transition from work to family time. It is also crucial to prioritize self-care. According to Walsh, neglecting personal needs due to overwhelming responsibilities can result in inadequate sleep and burnout.

To encourage sleep, Walsh suggested incorporating a relaxing evening ritual that includes turning off electronics at least one hour before bedtime and participating in stress-relieving pursuits such as journaling or meditation. In addition, Walsh recommends avoiding tasks that keep your mind alert too close to bedtime— such as watching a scary movie or an engaging documentary, having difficult discussions or completing work duties. Achieving necessary sleep can be facilitated by seeking mental health counseling, nutritional coaching, sleep testing and professional advice.

To enhance sleep hygiene, Walsh suggests creating a conducive sleep environment in the bedroom, such as using blackout blinds, adjusting nighttime temperature, removing distractions, selecting a suitable bed size, assessing mattress comfort and selecting the right pillow based on preferred sleep position.

“I spent more than 30 years searching for the answer to my chronic insomnia. Here’s what I know for sure. My life, career, relationships, mental well-being and health would’ve been so much better if I had found the cure for my insomnia sooner,” Walsh acknowledged.

Tim Hennessy

Editor, at the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans  Favorite Foundation Product: Plans & Trusts Benefits-related topics that interest him the most: retirement security and mental health Personal Insights: Tim enjoys spending time with his family, watching movies, reading, writing, and running.  

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