Sleepy at Work? You’re Not Alone

sleepy at workFeeling a bit sleepy at work today? The National Sleep Foundation just released its revised guidelines for sleep, recommending that adults 26-64 years old get 7 to 9 hours a night. But a 2013 Gallup study found that, on average, American adults sleep 6.8 hours per night. Regardless of the numbers, we all know what it’s like to struggle through a day without enough sleep.

Why is this a big deal for HR? Because it’s a business performance issue. Brandon Hall Group’s 2015 HCM Outlook study found that learning and performance were most frequently cited as critical business priorities. And being sleepy at work profoundly impacts all of these areas.

Being sleepy at work affects safety

A recent documentary from National Geographic highlighted Schneider Trucking, working with its drivers to combat sleep apnea, a condition from which as many as 38% of truck drivers suffer. Sleep apnea disrupts sleep hundreds of times a night, leaving drivers dangerously fatigued. Driving drowsy can leave you as impaired as driving drunk. While all organizations may not go to this extreme, being sleepy at work does increase the chance of accidents and mistakes on the job, and also can contribute to rising health care costs. A University of Chicago study found that just three consecutive nights without enough sleep can elevate the risk of diabetes by roughly the equivalent of gaining 20 to 30 pounds. Helping employees understand the risks of lack of sleep, and giving them tools to manage it, can have huge long-term benefits in health care costs and lost work time.

Sleepiness at work affects learning

Learning is also an essential priority for businesses, but without enough sleep, all that investment in learning may go to waste. A Harvard study discusses three essential elements of learning and memory – acquisition, consolidation and recall. While taking in learning (acquisition) and using it (recall) happen while we are awake, consolidation of information – the process by which we stabilize information in our memories and make it available for later use – largely happens while we rest. If employees are consistently sleepy at work, we could be undoing all of the investment we put into learning programs.

Feeling sleepy at work affects performance

Performance on the job is also paramount. The unfortunate thing is, much of our culture defines performance and excellence as someone who is tireless, always available, and will work all night to get the job done. But in reality, these behaviors leave us cloudy, unfocused, and even dangerous. The true mark of leadership is taking care of an essential company resource –  productivity. Like everything else we value as organizations, proper sleep needs to become part of the corporate culture.

I like sleep. I know I feel better and perform better when I get it. If I’m traveling to give a presentation, I will forgo dinners and parties because I know my product will be better the next day if I don’t stay out late. I will carve out times to take a nap whenever I can because I’ve seen how much more productive I am after that 20-minute snooze. I know not everyone has the opportunity for a nap during the day, but it shouldn’t be a luxury to get enough rest. We don’t have to settle for our employees being sleepy at work. The more organizations and individuals work together to make sleep a priority, the better business results – and human results – we will achieve.

Mollie Lombardi, VP and Principal Analyst,
Workforce Management, Brandon Hall Group

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Mollie Lombardi



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Mollie Lombardi