Combating Workplace Sleep Deprivation

Hectic work schedules and busy personal lives cause many people to
occasionally or regularly sacrifice a good nights sleep. But according to
this sleep science expert, not getting enough rest can lead to some serious
safety and health consequences in the workplace.

James Herdegen M.D., the medical director of the US-American Sleep Science
Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago, spoke to
OccupationalHazards.com about how sleep deprivation is a problem more common
than most people realize.

Probably half of our population, perhaps even more, is not obtaining sufficient
sleep on a daily basis, he said.

According to Dr. Herdegen, sufficient sleep amounts to approximately 8 hours a
day. Getting less than that can lead to impaired math skills, thought processes
or memory, which can create serious hazards for workers operating forklifts,
driving trucks or performing other at-risk duties.

In fact, Herdegen said, sleep-deprived workers may have had a role in major
events such as several Amtrak train derailments, the Exxon Valdez oil spill and
the Three Mile Island accident. Whether those events were influenced by
sleep-deprived employees or not, workers performing their jobs on inadequate
amounts of sleep can run a higher risk of being injured, making mistakes or
otherwise compromising workplace safety.

For example, Herdegen pointed to clinical studies examining sleep deprivation
among medical profesionals, such as emergency room residents who work at night
and have a higher rate of motor vehicle accidents or near misses. Other effects
might include improper documentation, prescribing medications incorrectly or
giving incorrect verbal orders to nursing staff.

Health Risks

While sleep-deprived impairment can pose grave safety risks for workers
operating machinery or driving vehicles, their health also is affected in less
immediate ways.

Shift workers, Herdegen pointed out, often are at a higher risk for a number of
health problems, including peptic ulcers, hypertension and cardiovascular
diseases, and also face an increased risk of making workplace errors. Working
night shifts may disturb employees circadian rhythms or even cause them to get
less sleep overall.

Shift workers in general tend to get an hour less of sleep per day than day
workers, Herdegen said.

Not getting enough sleep also can lead to obesity or weight gain, as
sleep-deprived individuals often increase their caloric intake. Research
suggests that a person sleeping 4 hours is hungrier despite receiving the same
amount of calories as someone sleeping 8 hours, Herdegen added.

Obesity can then lead to diabetes, hypertension or other health problems, as
well as decreased productivity and increased absenteeism. Workers who do not
get enough sleep therefore must be diligent about making healthy eating choices
and getting enough exercise.

Tips for Better Rest

According to Herdegen, the most common cause of sleep deprivation is periods of
insufficient or poor sleep. This could include transient insomnia or life
stress events that keep people from getting enough restful sleep. Other
conditions can also lead to sleep deprivation, such as sleep apnea, insomnia,
restless leg syndrome or the comparatively rare narcolepsy.

Herdegen explained that sleep-deprived workers can take steps to regain a
normal sleep schedule and improve safety and productivity:

  • Gain family support. Nigh shift employees must ensure they have a restful
    environment at home during their sleep hours. They have to have accommodations
    from family members to maintain a quiet atmosphere during non-traditional sleep
    times rather than having a chaotic household at 10 oclock in the morning,
    Herdegen said of night shift workers.

  • Schedule sleep periods. Herdegen added that some workers should realize that
    realistically, they wont be able to sleep 8 hours at once. But that doesnt mean
    they should function without enough sleep: those 8 hours can be split into two
    sleep periods. For example, if workers can only get a solid 6 hours of sleep at
    a stretch, they should schedule a two-hour nap at a later time during the day.

  • Nap. Taking a short nap can lead to a significant recovery of function.
    Theres evidence that naps are quiet productive in restoring functionality. It
    only takes about an hour of napping to restore about 4 hours of high-level
    functioning, Herdegen said.

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AplusA-online.de - Source: Occupational Hazards