Business of Well-being

Wake up Call: Good Sleep is Good for Employees

As bleary-eyed employees line up in break rooms across America for their morning coffee - the magic potion that will jump-start their day -- thoughts often swirl about the poor night's sleep many of them are trying to recover from. Billions of dollars are lost annually worldwide to sleep-deprived workforces. The impact of insomnia affects safety, judgment, concentration and decision-making skills among the ranks -- from line employees to the C-Suite.

Absenteeism and presenteeism (attending work while sick), and on-site injuries, road accidents and expensive mistakes are often a result of fatigue. While many people might change nutrition habits or increase activity, perhaps, the most crucial and overlooked element to a healthy body is sleep.

One-third of life involves sleep and we will literally die without it. Yet, sleep-aid sections of local pharmacies continue to expand because an estimated 60-million Americans suffer from chronic sleep disorders. Meanwhile, insomnia-related healthcare claims continue to rise.

Sleep is the Third Pillar of Health

Employers too often overlook this missing link in their wellness programming. The good news is that sleep will be targeted by nearly 20 percent of all companies that offer health and wellness programs. Research indicates that the high estimated costs to society of leaving the most prevalent sleep disorders untreated are far more than charges related to treatment.

Hundreds of billions of dollars are spent annually on direct medical costs associated with doctor visits, hospital services, prescriptions, and over-the-counter drugs. Compared to healthy individuals, the sleep-deprived are less productive, have an increased healthcare utilization and an increased likelihood of accidents.1

Resistance is Futile

So what is the resistance? In our 24/7 culture resplendent with electronic devices, bright lights, potential for activity and distraction, choosing something other than sleep can make any time the right time to be awake. Yet, the body has a delicate system that regulates the drive to be awake and to sleep.

Ignoring these urges and resisting the temptation to close our eyes is often perceived as a sign of strength. For some, there is something to be celebrated about "only needing four hours of sleep" a night. Yet, according to a University of California-San Francisco, study, only 3 percent of the adult population performs well after this marginal amount of sleep.

For the rest of us, there should be no shame in wanting to close our eyes and let our bodies replenish and restore; to allow the"street sweeper" to move in to clear out all the refuse that clutters our minds after a hard day's work.

For corporate HR and wellness executives, recognizing the impact sleep deprivation and the emotional, psychological and physical impacts of insomnia on overall health can't be underestimated. Organizations must begin to view sleep health as an integral part of successful wellness programming -- for companies both big and small.

Call to Action

From shift workers to truck drivers, sleep deprivation can have dire consequences. When exploring the implementation of a sleep health program, employees should first rule out or address conditions, such as obstructive apnea, restless leg syndrome, menacing medications that affect sleep or other conditions that may cause or exacerbate troubles.

While many contributing factors to poor sleep are health-related, others are simply behavioral in nature. For the population that experiences some level of insomnia on a regular basis, wellness teams can begin to explore holistic solutions to common insomnia troubles including cognitive behavioral therapy, room environment modification, low blue-light exposure controls, sleep-supporting pre-bedtime activities, that support sleep, proper food and drink, stress and anxiety management and relaxation tools and techniques.

Some or all of these easy-to-implement tools can result in dramatic sleep improvement Making tools and techniques for improvement available for work populations is easier than said. The National Sleep Foundation offers a myriad of tips and suggestions that are easily accessible.

Often times, answers to these troubles can be found in the environment, daily activities, foods we eat and bedtime routines. Understanding how small modifications can impact a quest for improved rest makes one wonder why it doesn't top the list for health programming.

Now is Time

Time has come for executives and leaders to encourage employees to power down, set aside their tools and allow bodies to restore for another productive day at the office, in the field and on the road. Understanding that chronic disease, obesity, depression, cancer, diabetes and a host of other ills including mortality can be brought on by prolonged sleep deprivation should elevate the importance of a good night's rest.

Once people have the tools and information to modify sleeping habits, they can experience life-changing results within a matter of days and weeks. Beginning with a self-assessment and then utilizing rest diaries and employing tools and trackers to measure efficiency are mechanisms for employers to support the personal exploration of their employees who desire improved health.

Employers are in a unique position to influence sleep and the health of millions of Americans. Just as important, companies recouping some of the $63 billion annually lost due to a fatigued workforce could have far-reaching effects on the bottom line.

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