Ever wanted to take a nap while you’re at work? (Haven’t we all?) A new study finds that some people actually nod off on the job—possibly more often than you might think!
Jennifer Turgiss, Dr. PH., M.S., a vice president with the Virgin Pulse Institute, recently conducted a study of 1,139 employees from three U .S. companies, as well as 18 respondents who supplemented data with phone interviews.
After assessing all the data, she found that:
- 76 percent of employees are tired most days of the week
- 30 percent weren’t happy with their sleep quality
- 15 percent have dozed off on the job at least once a week
Why can’t you sleep?
What’s keeping us up? Study respondents said that four key factors were preventing them from getting good rest: Worry/stress, mental activity, physical discomfort, and environmental disruptors.
According to the study, 85.2 percent say the room or bed temperature was either too high or too low, while 71.9 percent attributed sleeping issues to their partners. Then there were 68.6 percent who said unwanted noise was an issue, and 52.8 percent who said the same about light. The report also found that 40 percent of respondents blamed their mattresses, while 35.9 percent cited disruptions from children. Just 10.2 percent say a medical condition interrupted their sleep.
Turgiss’ isn’t the only study that sheds light on the importance of getting a good night of rest. The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) says about 50 million Americans experience sleep disturbances that impact their professional performance in a negative way. A 2008 report of theirs found that a 29 percent of survey respondents fell asleep or became very sleepy at work in the past month, and 36 percent have fallen asleep or nodded off while driving in the past year.
The perils of crummy sleep
What does it matter if you’re not rested while working? According to her study, missing sleep can cost companies about $2,000 per employee each year. Think about it: After a bad night of sleep, you may call out—and that could hurt the rest of the team. Even if you show up groggy, you’re probably not as sharp or productive. (Maybe then you do nod off under your desk while the door’s closed and most people are off at lunch!)
It also has effects on employees’ health. As few as five days of insufficient sleep can alter energy metabolism and reduce dietary restraint, particularly in women. Not getting enough Zs is also linked to having a weak immune system, poor cognitive function and decision-making, cardiovascular disease, and even premature death. It also puts you at a higher risk for diabetes and obesity, the study says.
Turgiss found that being tired lowered people’s ability to manage stressful situations. And as you may have guessed, stress also decreased the likelihood of getting a good night’s sleep.
This leads to a whole host of problems at the workplace: less energy to complete physical and mental tasks, decreased cognitive power and decision-making abilities, less patience with coworkers and family, and less ability to cope with stressful situations.
Staying fresh on the job
What can you do to perk up at work? Avoid too much caffeine or sugar, as it can cause energy spurts—and crashes. A healthy diet is also key to keeping energy levels at a peak. Many companies encourage employees to take walks on breaks or exercise before or after their shifts. Turgiss’ study found that employees liked when companies instituted programs to help them improve sleep and overall work-life balance. Taking short breaks can also refresh you.
Getting a better night’s sleep
You can improve sleep by changing sheets often, dimming the room, and not watching television or viewing mobile devices before attempting to nod off. Also, you may not want to work out too close to bedtime—Dr. Stuart Quan, the Gerald E. McGinnis professor of sleep medicine at Harvard Medical School, said there is anecdotal evidence that some people have a harder time getting rest after a late-night workout—though some say it’s key to good rest.
A 2013 NSF poll found that 83 percent of people who exercised at any time of day (including late at night) said they slept better than those that didn’t exercise. Just 3 percent of nighttime exercisers said they slept worse on days they worked out.
A recent study out of the University of Oxford indicates that higher levels of omega-3 DHA can help patients have better sleep. Melatonin is another popular supplement, as are other herbs. Talk to your doctor if you think sleeping pills may be able to help—but beware, because they can be dangerous.
Kristen Fischer is a freelance writer living at the Jersey Shore. She typically gets eight hours of sleep per night–nine if she’s lucky.