Something to Sleep On: Sleep Deficiencies and the Workplace

A recent University of Chicago sleep study revealed that Americans are sleeping less than ever before, and that our sleep time has decreased nearly 15% over the last several decades. In the 1970s, Americans slept an average of 7.1 hours nightly. Today, we’re sleeping just 6.1 hours a night, and 1 to 2 hours less each night than a generation ago. Among those who are employed, about 3 in 10 workers sleep a total of 6 hours or less per night.


Researchers say a rise in sleep disorders is a primary reason why Americans are losing sleep. Between 50 and 70 million adults in the U.S. suffer from some type of sleeping disorder. The two most common are insomnia and sleep apnea. Those with insomnia have difficulty falling or staying asleep, while sleep apnea, a breathing disorder, frequently awakens the sufferer and prevents restful (or REM) sleep. Both conditions can cause daytime fatigue or drowsiness that can impact workplace attendance, productivity and safety.


Modern working conditions have also contributed to America’s sleeplessness. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, we’re working longer hours than ever before, as nearly 22 million Americans work outside or beyond the traditional 9-to-5 workday, including evenings and weekends, rotating shifts, and on-call assignments, and these people average 2 to 4 hours less sleep per night than those working traditional hours.


Not surprisingly, workers with sleep disorders are more likely to suffer workplace injuries, and data shows that many injuries occur between midnight and 6 a.m., a time period most of us associate with sleep. Employers lose an estimated $15 to $92 billion each year due to illnesses, absences, injuries and reduced productivity associated with employee sleep deficits.


The University research team recommends several strategies that both employers and their employees can adopt to help employees improve their sleep habits and potentially reduce workplace issues related to sleep deficits.


Employers should recognize that a well-rested worker is a productive and safer worker, and thus consider:

  • Limiting work schedules to no more than 12 hours per day
  • Promoting sleep education and awareness programs
  • Allowing employees to separate from work when the workday is finished
  • Reducing shift work


Individuals can improve their sleep habits by:

  • Adhering to consistent bedtimes
  • Avoiding watching television in bed at bedtime
  • Refraining from eating and avoiding caffeine intake before bedtime


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