A Publication of WTVP

We love it. We can’t get enough of it. So why is it costing businesses billions?

Three to four days each month, nearly half of your employees will experience sleepiness so severe it will impair them from doing the very tasks you’ve hired them to do. If you’re concerned with the bottom line—and you know you are—you should also be concerned that issues associated with sleep disorders are costing employers billions each year.

Chronic sleep loss or sleep disorders may affect as many as 70 million Americans, resulting in an annual cost of $16 billion in healthcare expenses and $50 billion in lost productivity. According to The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Psychiatry, $31 billion is due to insomnia-related issues alone.

Our Perception of Sleep
“I could use a good nap right now.”
“I didn’t get enough sleep last night.”
“I got more sleep last night than usual and I’m still tired!”

These are casual comments you often hear in the workplace. Our perception of sleep is a big part of the problem—we don’t take it seriously. For Melinda of East Peoria, it was no joke.

“For years, I would wake up every hour on the hour,” Melinda says. “I felt listless and tired all the time. I had absolutely no energy. I got to the point where I couldn’t stand feeling that way any longer.” At work, she didn’t feel sharp. She was performing “okay,” but not up to her own expectations. And the energy just wasn’t there.

Absenteeism, decreased productivity, costly errors, safety and a general negative effect on the work environment itself may be the result of employees with sleep disorders. Some may not know they even have a problem. And some, like Melinda, may realize the problem, but are afraid of the fix. Either way, your business—and your employees—are hurting.

Lack of Sleep is Serious Business
Employees suffering from sleep deprivation often don’t know it. They can be irritable and less understanding of coworkers, and they may become more outspoken and display disruptive behavior that affects everyone. Left unchecked, it could lead to ineffectiveness and job dissatisfaction.

“Sleep deprivation has been associated with depression, anxiety, short temper, morning headache and short-term memory loss,” says Dr. Ravindra Kashyap, medical director for the UnityPoint Health – Methodist | Proctor Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Services.

The National Sleep Foundation reports that one out of four workers with a sleep problem is unable to work at their optimum. That’s serious business. “Patients who do shift work may have difficulty getting a restful sleep,” explains Dr. Kashyap. “Some patients with high-stress jobs may develop insomnia. Sleep quantity and quality are equally important. Adults need to sleep seven to nine hours a night to maintain good sleep hygiene and a tight sleep schedule.”

Sleep plays a critical role in thinking and learning. “I did everything I could to avoid having a sleep study,” Melinda says. “I was one of those people that fought hard against addressing the issue because I was afraid I might end up wearing a CPAP. But guess what? Now I wake up every day feeling great.” Melinda has been seeing Dr. Kashyap twice annually for several years. “And I am 100-percent compliant,” she says of her CPAP. “I wear it every night. I even remember dreaming now.”

Taking a Toll
If you’ve tried to cut back on sleep just to work more activity into your day, you may want to rethink that. Lack of sleep impairs our attention, alertness, concentration, reasoning and problem solving, making it more difficult to learn efficiently. During the night, sleep cycles play a role in “consolidating” memories in the mind. If you don’t get enough sleep, you may not be able to remember what you learned and experienced during the day.

Reducing your nighttime sleep by as little as 1.5 hours for just one night could result in a reduction of daytime alertness by as much as 32 percent. It doesn’t matter what industry you work in, if you are not functioning at the top of your game both cognitively and physically, you could be an accident waiting to happen. Physically?

Yes, sleep disorders and chronic sleep loss can take their toll on you physically and put you at risk for heart disease, heart attack, heart failure, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, stroke and diabetes. In addition, there’s growing evidence that a chronic lack of sleep increases your risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease and infections. If you don’t get enough sleep, the nightly dip in blood pressure that appears to be important for good cardiovascular health may not occur.

In what is known as the “Whitehall II Study,” researchers in Great Britain examined sleep patterns and how they affected the mortality of 10,000 British civil servants over a 20-year period. The results demonstrated that individuals who cut their sleep from seven to five hours or less doubled their risk of death from all causes.

Keep Sleep Top of Mind
How do the effects of undiagnosed sleep disorders affect your bottom line? Excessive sleepiness can contribute to a greater than twofold higher risk of sustaining an occupational injury. It’s every business owner or HR administrator’s worst nightmare:

“Many people with sleep apnea have gotten used to poor-quality sleep. They believe the constant fatigue they experience is normal,” says Dr. Kashyap. “Once they get diagnosed with sleep apnea and treated with CPAP, they realize how a good-quality sleep can improve their energy level.”

“My energy level—that was the first thing I noticed, and almost immediately,” Melinda adds. “My brain functions sharper and more efficiently.”

Sleep problems in the workforce are underappreciated, under-recognized and often misdiagnosed. So what’s the answer? “More and better sleep,” reminds Dr. Kashyap.

If you’re concerned about an employees’ work or behavior, talk with them about sleep. Bring it up in casual conversation or discuss it openly during staff meetings. Integrate discussions of sleep and the positive and negative effects wherever possible. Education is the key. iBi

For more information, call UnityPoint Clinic Pulmonary, Critical Care & Sleep Services in Peoria at (309) 672-4433, or on the Proctor campus at (309) 691-1026.