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The Real Cost of Sleep Deprivation

A recently conducted survey by a highly respected evidence-based organization has provided new insight into the degree that lack of sleep is affecting our work and the quality of our lives. The Virgin Pulse Institute has recently has recently released the results of a study that was conducted to provide them with a comprehensive view of what might be preventing their employees from getting the sleep that they need and what they and their employees could do to help solve the problem. Their conclusions – that employers who supported their employees’ efforts at improving sleep would be rewarded with increased productivity and make their workers feel more appreciated, was underscored by some of the shocking data that they collected.

The study involved over 1,100 employees whose organizations are all members of Virgin Pulse. The results of the sleep study were combined with data gathered from an online sleep program called vielife. Among the notable statistics that the organization gathered were the following:

  • Three out of every four employees indicated that they experienced fatigue on most weekdays
  • Forty percent of workers said that at least once per month they fall asleep during the day
  • Thirty percent of workers indicated being unhappy or very unhappy with the amount of sleep that they were getting or the quality of the sleep they were getting
  • Fifteen percent of workers said that at least once per week to once per day they fall asleep during the day
What is the real cost of sleep deprivation? What is the real cost of sleep deprivation?

The study was coauthored by Virgin Pulse Institute’s director, Dr. Jennifer Turgiss. In commenting on the study’s conclusions she says, “Showing up to work sleep deprived can be the equivalent of showing up to work intoxicated. Employees who don’t sleep well have poorer concentration, poorer decision making abilities, are significantly less able to cope with stressful situations, and are more likely to make unhealthy choices. The effects of poor sleep impair people’s focus and motivation, preventing them from reaching their full potential. In attempts to encourage employees to live healthier, often employers – with the help of their health insurers or wellness vendors – focus on simply improving diet and exercise, but this approach ignores one critically important habit: sleep. With its direct link to dangerous health conditions and steep productivity losses, a well-rested workforce is critical to a company’s success.”

In drilling down to the details of employee sleep deprivation, the Virgin Pulse Institute study identified four different major factors that were playing a role in preventing them from getting the sleep they needed. These were:

  • Worry and stress
  • Physical discomfort or pain
  • Mental activity
  • Environmental

The breakdown of these variables listed many things that will be extremely familiar to those struggling with sleep, including sleeping environment that was too hot, too cold or too noisy, a partner that wanted to talk or whose tossing and turning or snoring was keeping them awake, an uncomfortable mattress, too much light in the room, young children awakening in the middle of the night, and physical conditions causing pain, discomfort or stress.

The study took note of the fact that lack of sleep had an impact on various aspects of a person’s well being, ranging from the physical and cognitive to their overall mood and ability to handle stress or unexpected circumstances on the job. Workers were found to be unable to focus on their job responsibility or work at top performance levels when sleep deprived, and felt generally unwell, unhappy and unmotivated. That lack of motivation went beyond their willingness or eagerness to work, and spread to their interest in doing other things that would be good for their health, including eating healthy foods or exercising. They also reported having difficulty remembering or learning, and being short-tempered both at work and at home with their loved ones.  Their inability to manage stress at work also carried into their sleeping time, keeping them up at night worrying about how they may have mishandled a situation on the job.

The Virgin Pulse Institute included many direct quotes from participating employees, which were used to great effect in illuminating the impact of sleep deprivation on employee attitude and work product. Here are a few:

“I would blow up at the wrong thing or at the wrong kid or something. And you just go, “Oh, man. I should have been able to handle that one.””

“I think there is a slow-down in terms of getting tasks done, just because, again, your attention span isn’t fully there. You might not be as with it.”

“I come in here in the morning and it’s kind of hard to get motivated. I’ll be yawning and carrying on and kind of drag for an hour or so before I’m really probably engaged and back doing real performance type of work I would say. So it will be easy for me to just kind of lag around, drink some coffee, walk around, talk to people, or sit at my desk ad read Internet news rather than actually work.”

“And the other thing that I noticed when I go through the period where I have more lack of sleep, I feel more scatterbrained, like I have all of these things to do. And normally I’m very organized and prioritize and will at least write a list, and everything goes out the window and I start forgetting to do things or bring this in the morning or things like that. And that really bothers me. I hate it when I drop a ball because I forgot something.”

Dr. Turgiss concludes her assessment of the results of the study with the following remarks:  “Our study made one thing clear: lack of sleep is crippling America’s workforce. Employers can’t turn a blind eye. Whether they offer an online sleep program, encourage employees to use vacation days, or provide other tools, employers must address sleep issues in order to create a thriving workforce and business. Not only will employees be more rested but they’ll feel more supported by their employers, helping them perform better and become better able to engage in work and in life.”

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