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Sleep Deprivation at Work

The National Sleep Foundation found that 50 million Americans suffer from lack of sleep on a regular basis. On any given night, only 27% of Americans fulfill the recommended amount of sleep of 7 to 9 hours. It is no wonder the CDC declares sleep disorders a public health epidemic. Fatigued workers are 70% more likely to be in accidents at work compared to someone who slept 8 hours. Getting 4 hours of sleep is akin to drinking six beers. Although safety issues may be lessened for office workers, the effects of poor sleep hygiene are still pronounced.

Lack of sleep can be ground zero for other health issues.

Those without sufficient sleep are at a higher risk for heart disease, obesity, and decreased cognitive performance.

For busy professionals, it is vital to prioritize sleep for one’s long term well-being.

Insufficient sleep can drive people to reevaluate the demands of their job. A negotiated work schedule that allows for a balanced life that prioritizes sleep will enhance a worker’s well-being and productivity. 

Flexible schedules, work from home options, and in-office naps all contribute to a more productive and happy workers. Employees should work with managers by emphasizing the productivity benefits that will be achieved through employer-supported sleep initiatives. Shorter shift times, bright lights, and healthy food options all contribute to a worker’s productivity.  

Companies that do not address sleep deprivation contribute to the United State’s $411 billion in economic losses per year, the highest of any nation by far. The Rand Corporation estimates over 1 million lost working days per year solely due to the effects of sleep deprivation on companies. Even for small businesses, one fatigued worker costs employers upwards of $3100 annually. 

How Does Lack of Sleep Affect Your Work?

Decreased Immunity

Lack of sleep compromises the body’s ability to fend off diseases. Research found that the flu vaccine is less effective when the patient had gotten less than 7 hours of sleep at some time in the last week. Sleep is critical for the production and release of cytokines, which provide signals to cells that regulate and mediate immunity and inflammation. One night of lessened sleep can down-regulate one’s immune response when injected with a flu virus.

Sleeping one hour less may increase your body’s chance of developing a cold or flu by 30%.

Decreased Productivity

Research at Hult Business School found that even 30 minutes of extra sleep affects work performance. Even beyond a general lethargy and lack of focus, it takes sleep deprived workers longer to finish tasks and solve problems.

People who sleep at least 7 hours can expect to perform 10% better than sleep deprived colleagues. 

Emotional Instability

Sleep loss causes irritability and an inability to self-regulate behavior. Displays of negative emotions increase with chronic fatigue. Psychologists recommend patients to set a consistent sleep schedule and eat a fatty, protein rich breakfast in order to curb one’s emotional instability. A consistent waking time is more important for emotional regulation than a consistent sleeping time. Blue light in the morning is critical to wake up the body and mind, whereas that same blue light at night sabotages sleep. 

Lack of sleep affects the body’s ability to fight disease and the mind’s ability to regulate itself. Mood shifts downward, along with one’s productivity at work. However, there are strategies that can be used to lessen the effects of sleep deprivation. The most obvious is to get more sleep at the first available opportunity. 

How can you function with little to no sleep?

Without the use of caffeine and other stimulants, there are simple ways to increase alertness. However, each method is not a replacement for actual sleep and its effects are temporary. The only way to address chronic fatigue is by practicing good sleep hygiene by setting a consistent sleep schedule. 

  1. Ice water | Cold Shower
    • Drinking ice water temporarily decreases fatigue, however, cold showers or an ice bath are the is a temporary way to function with little to no sleep. Submersion in cold water for over 2 minutes increases the body’s immune function and the mind’s ability to regulate mood. 
    • To effectively use a cold shower, slowly lower the temperature of the water to not shock the body. Continue to breathe normally. Finish the shower as cold as you can handle for at least thirty seconds.
  2. Sunlight or Artificial Blue Light
    • Artificial blue light and sunlight both decrease melatonin production and signal wakefulness to the mind. To effectively prepare to work sleep deprived, expose yourself to light as soon as possible after waking up. 
    • Natural sunlight breaks during work will provide a mood boost. You may find newfound energy after a short, brisk walk in the fresh air. If napping is not allowed, sunlight may be your savior. 
  3. 20 Minute Power Naps
    • Many companies recognize that employee performance suffers when sleep deprived. To respond to this, on-site napping is no longer taboo at companies such as Nike, Zappos,  and Google. Quiet spaces for employees to nap increase productivity and general health and wellness. 
    • To most effectively nap at work, limit the nap time to 20 minutes. Because a full sleep cycle is 90 minutes, 20 minutes is not deep enough into the cycle to not be interrupted. One 20 minute nap can temporarily act as a full sleep cycle and provide wakefulness, as long as it is not a long term solution to chronic fatigue. 
  4. Physical Activity
    • A small increase in heart rate associated with physical activity decreases the effects of sleep deprivation and increases wakefulness. A sustained increase in heart rate is most effective and can be achieved through a walking desk, or frequent physical activity breaks. Bodyweight exercises can be substituted for an under the desk elliptical or a standing desk. Thirty squats every 15 minutes mimic the effects of caffeine without any negative side effects. 
  5. Eat Small Meals
    • Large carbohydrate dense meals increase drowsiness. To combat sleep deprivation, small protein and fat rich meals provide sustained energy all day. Small meals every 2.5 to 3 hours are the most effective regimen for performance. Four ounces of protein with vegetables and an omega rich oil will sustain your body until a full night’s sleep can be achieved. 

How can you Identify Chronic Sleep Issue?

Losing a few hours of sleep a week is not enough to qualify for chronic insomnia. Most sleep issues people experience are short term. Stressing about a meeting on monday generally leads to better sleep on  monday night. However, for people who experience consistent sleep problems, they may be diagnosed with chronic insomnia.

Signs to Look out For

  1. Difficulty falling asleep
    • The average person takes 14 minutes to fall asleep. 
  2. Waking up and being unable to fall back asleep
  3. Waking up too early
  4. Relying on Caffeine to wake up
  5. Relying on Alcohol to fall asleep 

Chronic sleep issues generally is a self-fulfilling cycle. Anxiety around sleep can cause you to take longer to fall asleep, be unable to fall back asleep if awoken, and cause you to take up early. Once you feel tired, you may lean on caffeine to help with the symptoms, further causing poor sleep and a reliance on the substance emerges. To avoid chronic sleep issues keep a consistent wake up time and talk to your doctor if problems continue for an extended period of time.

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