Whether stress, daylight savings or technology is the culprit, America’s zombie-like state due to lack of sleep is costing America’s companies about $63 billion a year, says Dr. Charles Czeisler, chief of the Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Czeisler says the epidemic of “presenteeism,” otherwise known as coming to work even when sick or exhausted from lack of sleep, is prevalent throughout the workplaces across the country.
Dr. Ron Kessler, Czeisler's colleague and a specialist in epidemiological studies, has had a long-term interest in how mental health and sleep deprivation issues impact productivity in the workplace. A number of years ago, a few pharmaceutical companies had him conduct a study on insomnia and the impact it has on workplace productivity. Kessler’s analysis ultimately determined that presenteeism produced a loss of approximately 250 billion employee workdays within a given year. “Ranging from the security guard dozing off on the job to the office worker laying his or her head down on the desk--being exhausted and tired at work can directly reduce productivity,” Czeisler said.
Dr. Sujay Kansagra, director of the Pediatric Neurology Sleep Medicine Program at Duke University Medical Center, says some of the common symptoms of sleep deprivation are sleepiness, fatigue, poor attention span and a decrease in vigilance.
“That combination is the perfect storm when it comes to inefficiency in the workplace,” Kansagra says. “The true economic impact is hard to calculate, especially when you consider how common sleep deprivation and sleep disorders are among the general population. However, it has been estimated that sleep deprivation and sleep disorders cost $150 billion each year in missed work, workplace accidents and decreased productivity."
In fact, an Australian study reported that the cost for sleep disorders was nearly 1% of national GDP.”
Why Are We So Tired?
Lauri Leadley, clinical sleep educator and president of the Valley Sleep Center in Phoenix, says a multitude of reasons contribute to why Americans aren’t getting enough sleep.
“What I see today is that people are not only busy, but they spend an inordinate amount of time on their smart phones checking Facebook or engaging in other online activities,” Leadley points out. “People sleep with their phones right next to them, because they have FOMO, or the fear of missing out.”
She says the problem is that notifications from your phone wake you up, disrupting your sleep and preventing or disturbing your REM sleep, which the body needs for rejuvenation. Healthy adults need between seven to nine hours uninterrupted sleep. Younger adults need more; older adults may need less.
“Also the light emitted from your phone disrupts your circadian rhythm telling your body that it’s not time to sleep, when you actually should be sleeping,” Leadley adds. “In addition, many people work shift work, which prevents them from getting the sleep they need. This includes public safety officers, pilots and others in public transportation, those in the health care industry and more.”
Another issue is the bouncing back and forth from “spring forward” to “fall back” every season with daylight savings.
“Daylight savings creates a very interesting population-wide experiment on sleep loss,” Kansagra observes. “Even the one hour loss of sleep during spring daylight savings is associated with notable decrease in workplace productivity.”
Kansagra says studies show this one hour sleep loss leads to approximately $450 million in lost productivity.
“Combine this with data showing the increase in motor vehicle accidents as well as heart attack risk immediately after spring daylight savings, and you have plenty of reasons to abolish the practice of daylight savings altogether,” Kansagra says. “Daylight savings was originally started in the U.S. in the early 1900s as a way of conserving energy, but research today does not convincingly show that it saves energy. And as energy creation and consumption becomes more efficient, the benefit of daylight savings, if any, becomes increasingly small.”
Not every state participates in daylight savings time. Leadley points out that Arizona doesn’t take part and Alaska, Idaho and California may be ending the sleep draining tradition.
Is Finding Sleep Possible?
While some people believe they can function quite well on little to no sleep, Kansagra says eventually the body starts to fight back.
”Sleep deprivation plays an interesting trick on the body," he says. "Over time, if you are chronically sleep deprived, you begin to subjectively feel as if you have become accustomed to less sleep.”
“Yet when objective testing is performed on chronically sleep deprived individuals, cognitive abilities such as maintaining attention continue to decrease the longer you are sleep deprived,” Kansagra continues. “And apart from attention, we know that sleep plays a critical role in memory and mood, both of which play a critical role in the workplace. Many are forced to use energy drinks to maintain focus, most of which simply have large amounts of caffeine . Unfortunately, even morning caffeine can affect nighttime sleep, often creating a vicious cycle of poor sleep, more caffeine, worse sleep.”
Czeisler says getting back on track takes setting a sleep schedule and sticking to it. “Go to bed the same time every day and wake up around the same time every morning in order to regulate your sleep schedule," he says. "Being on a regular sleep schedule will set you up for getting into a regular sleep pattern but will have a direct impact on your performance at work or in school. Plus, you will also reduce the likelihood of getting sick.”
What about napping to bank more sleep? Czeisler says that individuals looking to regulate their sleep and be more productive in the workplace should consider doing a sleep makeover rather than trying to grab a compensatory nap here and there. “If you can capture 14 hours or even a weekend to make sleep a priority and take a sleep vacation, you can restore lost sleep,” he says. “Needing a nap is a sign of sleep deficiency and that you aren’t getting the restorative sleep you truly need at night.”