There is no denying that sleep is incredibly important. After all, we spend a third of our lives asleep! Despite the considerable role sleep plays in our lives, many of us often feel tired and lethargic, and we have difficulty falling to sleep and staying asleep through the night. In the face of abnormal fatigue, it is incredibly necessary to prioritize sleep.

In the International Society of Certified Employee Benefit Specialists CWC webcast “Wake-Up Call: The Unseen Impact of Sleep Deprivation,” sleep expert Lana Walsh outlined the importance of quality rest, the adverse effects of insomnia, and strategies to improve sleep wellness and improve workplace performance.

The Importance of Quality Rest

We all know that sleep is an essential part of life, but what makes it so important? The sleep cycle is necessary for our bodies and brains to rest and reset after working to power us through each day. This process is even more important when we are sick, are injured or have been especially active. Just one night of bad sleep can adversely affect the brain. Conversely, when one wakes feeling well-rested, there is a marked improvement in performance, focus and overall well-being. Unfortunately, 40% of people get less than the recommended seven hours of sleep per night and 20% suffer from insomnia or another chronic sleep disorder.

Adverse Effects of Insomnia

A major reason chronic sleep disorders like insomnia are so detrimental is because of the significant role sleep plays in our body systems. Insufficient sleep increases risk for a variety of conditions like diabetes, immunodeficiency, cardiovascular disease, hormone imbalances, body pain and mental health. These issues, in turn, impact our ability to get proper sleep, leading to a vicious cycle.

Insomnia also leads to cognitive performance deficits such as:

  • Impaired divergent thinking processes
  • Poor performance on attention-intensive tasks
  • Increased distractibility and incidence of microsleeps
  • Decline in working memory
  • Decreased psychomotor performance.

Employees impacted by insomnia and poor sleep struggle with workplace performance. These individuals are absent 3.7 times more than the average worker and are nearly two times less productive. Even if only a few employees struggle with sleep, the entire organization can suffer the potential consequences, including:

  • Increased accidents, errors and omissions
  • Impaired judgment and poor decision making
  • Strained relationships and increased conflict
  • Lower employee morale and engagement
  • Increased turnover.

Diminished performance due to poor sleep costs the Canadian and U.S. economies billions of dollars each year. Benefits costs are also significantly affected—A study from the Kansas State Employee Wellness Program saw a direct correlation between increased annual health care expenses and difficulty sleeping. This is likely due to employees accessing more health services because they experience more instances of ill health or perceive themselves as being in poor health more often.

What Can Employers Do?

Leadership has a strong effect on the way sleep wellness is approached in the workplace. Here are a few employer actions to prevent neglect of proper rest in employees:

  • Acknowledge and explore: Many fail to admit that lack of sleep is an issue. Encourage managers to regularly check in with staff to discover personal stressors that may be affecting sleep.
  • Company values: Make a conscious effort to prioritize health and wellness. Educate staff on issues like sleep, nutrition, exercise, stress reduction and mental health.
  • Shift strategies: If possible, try flexible work arrangements to allow employees to prioritize sleep schedules.

What Can Individuals Do?

Those suffering from poor sleep and chronic insomnia can try these quick tips to improve sleep:

  • Stick to a schedule even on weekends: This routine helps support circadian rhythm, allowing for proper sleep/wake cycles.
  • Get more sunshine: Increased serotonin helps to naturally produce melatonin in the brain.
  • Utilize stress reduction strategies: Regular use of strategies like meditation or journaling help to shut down anxiety impacting sleep.

To learn more about the impacts of sleep deprivation, view the entire webcast recording at Live and recorded webcasts are free for Foundation and ISCEBS members.

Rebecca Plier

PR/Communications Specialist Favorite Foundation Product: The Talking Benefits podcast! What an engaging way to get timely benefits insights. Benefits-related Topics that Interest Her Most: Mental health, diversity, equity and inclusion, and workplace wellness. Personal Insight: When Rebecca isn’t diving headfirst into the world of benefits, she enjoys organizing her monthly book club and expanding her vinyl record collection.

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