Many managers and employees associate working long hours with ambition and dedication. But workers who toil past the point of sleep deprivation – and any company that expects this of their employees as a matter of course – are doing themselves a disservice.
The Mental Impact
Healthy adults should get a minimum of seven hours of sleep each night (although researchers recommend up to eight hours). However, studies have revealed that many workers only average six hours and 28 minutes per night.
Working long hours actually decreases productivity. This may seem counterintuitive, but there’s plenty of science to back it up.
Studies show that a lack of sleep hurts workers’ ability to communicate with each other. Sleep deprived workers are more likely to enunciate poorly, mumble instructions, mispronounce or slur words, and lose their train of thought in the middle of a sentence.
A lack of sleep also hurts work performance in ways beyond making it harder for team members to communicate with each other. It also hurts brain function. Sleep deprivation makes it harder for workers to retain new information. It also decreases response times and makes it easier for employees to get distracted.
The Physical Impact
Sleep deprivation doesn’t only make workers less productive. It also impacts their physical health.
People who average less than seven hours of sleep per night are more likely to contract illnesses such as the common cold. This keeps employees away from work and therefore hurts productivity.
Sleep deprivation also increases the risk of more serious medical conditions. These include obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.
Danger On The Job
Given how important sleep is to mental and physical health, it’s no surprise that fatigue plays a big role in workplace accidents.
The National Transportation Safety Board estimates that driver fatigue contributes to as much as 40% of all semi-truck accidents.
A study by the Centers For Disease Control detailed what percentage of workers in certain fields commonly average less than seven hours of sleep per night. In several of these industries, the dangers of working while fatigued can easily have severe or even deadly consequences:
- Switchboard/communications equipment operators: 58%
- Rail transportation workers: 53%
- Plant and system operators: 50%
- Supervisors, food preparation and serving workers: 49%
- Extraction workers: 45%
- Nursing, psychiatric and home health aides: 43%
Employers have a big incentive to make sure their workers show up to the job well-rested. Companies should take steps to cut down on long working hours and make certain their employees are getting enough sleep. Some tips include:
- Make sure everyone leaves work on time at the end of their shift
- Limit the use of stand-by and on-call duties
- Increase the length of breaks between shifts
- Match shift times to the availability of public transport
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