The Steep Price of Sleep Deprivation

The conversation around nap rooms in the workplace isn’t exactly a new one.

(For example, you can see just a few of HRE’s contributions to the long-running discussion here, here and, most recently, here.)

The consensus seems to be that nooks around the office where employees can retreat for some (probably much-needed) shuteye will likely remain a dream for many workers. But the effect that sleep deprivation has on the workforce—and on the countless employees who seem to perpetually run on too little rest—is very real.

The Washington Post’s Jena McGregor examined this impact in a recent piece.

For instance, McGregor cited Harvard data demonstrating that, for the average worker, insomnia results in the loss of more than 11 days of productivity each year, equaling $2,280. Add that up across the United States, and the figure comes to $63.2 billion.

Researchers have also found “clear links between poor sleep and reduced quality of life on the job,” wrote McGregor, noting studies that have revealed links between insomniac supervisors and abusive behavior as well as correlations between lack of sleep and medical conditions such as dementia and diabetes.

Employers are noticing these connections as well, and some have taken steps to aid employees in sleeping more and sleeping better, and in turn becoming physically healthier, mentally sharper, and, of course, more productive.

Vendors are helping as well. As McGregor points out, Ceridian has begun to include sleep coaches as part of the wellness packages it offers clients, while sleep diagnostic and treatment company SleepMed has introduced a nationwide health and wellness product that screens employees for sleep disorders and provides access to therapies.

Big Health’s Sleepio at Work program is the latest addition to this market space. Big Health launched the digital sleep improvement program last week, not quite one year after releasing its Sleepio app, which imports sleep data from fitness tracking devices to give users an overview of their sleep profiles, and provides a personalized program of cognitive behavioral therapy techniques. The digital provider of personalized behavioral medicine includes organizations such as LinkedIn and Henry Ford Health System on its client roster, and has helped lead employee workshops on sleep at Google, according to the Post.

Ultimately, however, it’s going to take more than technology and workshops to change the “sleep is for losers” mentality that remains prevalent in many organizations, according to Russell Sanna, a former executive director of the division of sleep medicine at Harvard Medical School.

This mind-set must go, and employers should be helping to see it out the door, he says.

“’Some companies don’t want to be known as sleep-friendly,” Sanna told the Post. “They want to be known as lean and mean.”

Thus far, the conversation about sleep deprivation has been “dominated by sleep scientists and self-help gurus,” he continued. “It needs desperately to have people in the organizational change, workplace advocacy and legal [fields] to help reframe the agenda.”