People often make light of how little sleep they get on a regular basis; an over-worked, over-tired condition has become the norm for many. But a good night’s sleep is not just a novelty, it’s a necessity. The effects of fatigue are far-reaching and can have an adverse impact on all areas of our lives.
Work often requires us to override those natural sleep patterns. More than 43% of workers are sleep-deprived, and those most at risk work the night shift, long shifts or irregular shifts. Following are a few facts for employers:
- Safety performance decreases as employees become tired
- 62% of night shift workers complain about sleep loss
- Fatigued worker productivity costs employers $1,200 to $3,100 per employee annually
- Employees on rotating shifts are particularly vulnerable because they cannot adapt their “body clocks” to an alternative sleep pattern
Drowsy driving is impaired driving, but while we wouldn’t allow a friend to drive drunk, we rarely take the keys away from our tired friends or insist they take a nap before heading out on the road. NSC has gathered research that shows:
- You are three times more likely to be in a car crash if you are fatigued
- Losing even two hours of sleep is similar to the effect of having three beers
- Being awake for more than 20 hours is the equivalent of being legally drunk
According to the CDC, the fall time change can also create, “a sudden change in the driving conditions in the late afternoon rush hour – from driving home from work during daylight hours to driving home in darkness. People may not have changed their driving habits to nighttime driving and might be at somewhat higher risk for a vehicle crash.”
Sleep is a vital factor in overall health. Adults need an average of seven to nine hours of sleep each night, but 30% report averaging less than six hours, according to the National Health Interview Survey.
- Chronic sleep-deprivation causes depression, obesity, cardiovascular disease and other illnesses
- Fatigue is estimated to cost employers $136 billion a year in health-related lost productivity
- More than 70 million Americans suffer from a sleep disorder
Americans receive little education on the importance of sleep, sleep disorders and the consequences of fatigue, but industry leaders recently have been drawing attention to this issue. Employers, too, are in an ideal position to educate employees on how to avoid fatigue-related safety incidents. NSC supports science-based fatigue risk management systems in the workplace.
Cost Of Fatigue
Fatigue is a hidden danger for employees and workplaces, and it has the potential to cost businesses millions of dollars a year. Employees who miss out on crucial sleep are less focused at work and at higher risk for injury. Proactive employers can reduce the impact of fatigue on their workplace and help keep their workers safe.
It has become increasingly common for American workers to report sleeping less than the recommended amount each night. A recent national survey found that more than one-third of Americans sleep less than seven hours each night. More than one in 10 reported sleeping less than six hours. Fatigue greatly impacts the workplace in terms of productivity:
- Workers who sleep fewer than six hours per night cost employers about six workdays a year in productivity
- Employees who sleep six to seven hours each night cost employers 3.7 workdays a year in productivity
Employees who work night or rotating shifts report more than twice the rate of missed workdays, resulting in increased absenteeism costs. While night and rotating shift structures are sometimes necessary, they have been linked to an increased risk of accidents and injuries.
The magnitude of this risk varies by industry, but in general, shifts of 10 hours or longer are consistently linked to increased risk of injury, and performance tends to diminish over the course of the shift.
Extended duration work shifts also increase the risk of injuries, accidents and errors, and motor vehicle crashes on the commute to and from work.
Sleep disorders are a major driver of costs in the workplace. When sleep disorders result in lost or poor sleep for an employee or an employee’s spouse, their workplace may see an impact on:
- Presenteeism (being present at work but not fully functioning)
- Healthcare costs
- Costly accidents
Total Cost at a Typical Workplace
A typical employer with 1,000 employees can expect to experience more than $1 million lost each year to fatigue: $272,000 due to absenteeism and $776,000 due to presenteeism. An additional $536,000 in healthcare costs could be avoided with optimization of sleep health.
How Employers Can Reduce Workers Fatigue
Fatigue is a growing problem affecting the workforce. Research estimates that 13% of workplace injuries can be attributed to fatigue, and 43% of Americans admit they may be too tired to function safely at work.
Following are some steps employers can take to reduce the risk of fatigue in their workplace and assist their employees in getting the proper amount of sleep.
Employees with rotating shift schedules or frequent night shift schedules face high risks for fatigue, but employer actions can help avoid this risk. Employers should:
- Avoid assigning permanent night-shift schedules if possible
- Assign regular, predictable schedules
- Avoid long shift lengths (no longer than 12 hours, 8-10 hours is better)
- Provide adequate time to recover between shifts
- Give employees a voice in their schedules
- Rotate shifts forward when regularly rotating shifts
- Provide frequent breaks within shifts
Allow Napping Where Feasible
Sleeping on the job is typically frowned upon, but if you encourage your employees to rest when safe and feasible, it could prevent an injury or mistake. Many employees are fatigued, but a short nap could give them the energy and focus they need to be safe and productive at work.
Educate Employees About the Importance of Sleep
The more your employees know about the importance of getting the recommended amount of sleep, the more they can do to make sure they avoid the risks of fatigue. On top of making changes to schedules, employers can:
- Promote in-person and online programs focused on sleep
- Offer sleep disorder screening programs
- Make sleep a part of corporate wellness programs
Adopt a Culture That Promotes Sleep Health
As employers adopt programs and policies to reduce employee fatigue, their workers must feel supported in taking advantage of these sleep programs. Employers should:
- Discourage employees from sacrificing sleep for work-related activities
- Provide accommodations if early or late hours are required
- Provide safe transportation and/or nap facilities to help employees stay alert while driving to or from work
- Adopt policies that discourage work-related activities (like email) during off hours
Reach Out for Help
Investigators from the Sleep Matters Initiative have provided sleep health education and/or sleep disorder screening programs to more than 25,000 participants in a variety of industries and safety-sensitive occupations. The program can be tailored to the specific needs of your workforce and delivered in-person by a sleep expert, through a train-the-trainer approach or entirely online.
To discuss programs for your workforce, contact Conor O’Brien at (617) 525-2614 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
What You Can Do To Prevent Fatigue
Feelings of fatigue are somewhat subjective, and signs of fatigue are not always easy to identify. Some people cannot even tell when they are fatigued.
The reality is, more than 1 in 3 people are not getting enough sleep. To avoid fatigue, make sure to:
- Get enough sleep and provide for adequate rest between physically or cognitively demanding activities
- Talk to your doctor about getting screened for sleeping disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnea
- Align your natural body clock with your work schedule; some people who regularly fly through different time zones, for example, use melatonin to reset their circadian rhythms
- If you work the night shift, try to maintain a consistent sleep schedule even on your days off, and be sure to use blackout curtains to keep your bedroom dark
- Instead of tossing and turning, give this sleep habits assessment tool a try and find out what’s keeping you awake; your answer is likely to differ greatly from your colleague or neighbor
Other things you can do includes;
Check for Consistency in Your Sleep Duration
Do you sleep more on your days off than work days? If so, you’re not sleeping enough on work days. Seven hours is the minimum recommended, but some people need more.
If you’re unsure, take the vacation test. While on vacation, allow yourself to sleep as much as you want. After several days, your sleep duration will stabilize. That should be your minimum amount of daily sleep.
Keep a Consistent Sleep Schedule
Just as important as sleep duration, a sleep schedule also will help keep you on your game during work hours.
- Use light to your advantage; morning light brightens your mood and helps synchronize your internal clock
- Don’t eat big meals close to bedtime, as this can affect your sleep quality; have dinner several hours before bed each night
- Avoid exercise in close proximity to bedtime; regular exercise generally improves sleep, but not if you do it near bedtime
Set Yourself up for Sleep Success
To help yourself get more rest and avoid fatigue, practice habits that will help you improve the quality of your sleep.
- Avoid chemicals that affect sleep; caffeine, nicotine and alcohol can all contribute to sleep problems
- Check with your doctor about side effects before starting a medication, and follow up if you think medicine could be affecting your sleep
- Make your bedroom conducive to sleep; a quiet, dark room that is not too hot and not too cold will help you relax and get to sleep sooner
- If you have daytime sleepiness or your bed partner witnesses snoring or breathing pauses, you may have sleep apnea and should see a sleep specialist
READ ALSO: 10 Common signs of fatigue
Create a Routine
The more you can get your body used to going to sleep at a certain time, the easier it will be for you to get good sleep consistently:
- Establish a regular, relaxing bedtime routine and stick to it
- Avoid stressful activities, especially before bed, so you don’t associate your bedroom and sleeping with anxiety
- Don’t go to bed for sleep unless you are truly sleepy; lying in bed “trying to sleep” when you are not sleepy is counterproductive and can make it harder for you to fall asleep at other times