Fretting over a work project. Binge-watching TV. Cramming for a test. Celebrating with friends. Reading just one more chapter of a great book. Plenty of things can keep us awake into the early morning hours.
The results? We go to work with a head full of cotton and do less than our best. Maybe we nod off after lunch. Maybe, as the sleep deficit accumulates, we become chronically ill. You can see how worries of worker sleep habits should have employers tossing and turning.
As much as many people try to ignore it, everybody needs sleep—Most of us need seven or eight hours of quality rest every night.
Many millions of people in America suffer from sleep deprivation pretty much all the time, Maria Konnikova writes in “The Walking Dead,” a 2015 article in The New Yorker. “Ask most anyone and they will tell you they do just fine with five, six hours. We systematically undervalue sleep, and yet it is fundamental to our present and future performance.”
She cites a Harvard neurologist who contends someone sleeping only six hours a night for 12 days will have the same cognitive and physical performance as someone awake for 24 hours straight—or someone with a blood alcohol level of 0.1%.
In the soon-to-be-released Mental Health and Substance Abuse Benefits: 2016 Survey Results, the International Foundation found that 40.6% of the 315 U.S. and Canadian respondents whose organizations offer mental health/substance abuse benefits said sleep deprivation is a covered condition.
With good reason. Nearly 40% of respondents believe sleep deprivation in their organizations is “very prevalent” (3.5%), “prevalent” (11.6%) or “somewhat prevalent” (24.1%), with 45.1% of respondents uncertain of the prevalence. (Apparently, public sector employees are slightly more prone to sleep deprivation (at least 46%) compared with corporate (at least 40%) or multiemployer (at least 39%) sectors.)
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The cover article in the October Benefits Magazine, “Sleep—A Rising Star in Well-Being,” reports on the connections between hypertension, diabetes and obesity and sleep adequacy. States where people got the fewest average hours of sleep each night also had the highest levels of chronic health problems.
Author Jeffrey S. Durmer, M.D., Ph.D., writes that “when a machine is used on a production line, it requires regular maintenance and care to perform at its best over time. While humans are not machines, our cognitive, physical and emotional abilities are directly related to the amount, quality and timing of our sleep.”
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Waking up “refreshed” is a signal “we have restored our cognitive function by repackaging neurochemicals, repaired our organ systems through hormonal and cellular signaling pathways, eliminated waste products that accumulate in the brain and body, and reset our circadian rhythm for wakefulness,” according to Durmer.
Sleep may be getting its due in the benefits world. Witness the rise of nap rooms at many organizations. Aetna’s CEO announced earlier this year employees would be paid for getting adequate sleep. Durmer points to several prominent business leaders who have stressed how important sleep is to physical, mental and emotional balance.
Sleep management is being incorporated into wellness programs that focus on overall well-being, with the help of technology that measures the amount and quality of sleep. Some employers offer sleep coaching and consultations with sleep medical professionals to uncover sleep disorders.
Are employees at your organization getting enough sleep? It’s a question to keep you up at night. . . .
Chris Vogel, CEBS
Senior Editor—Publications at the International Foundation