The Heartland Center has just released the Summer 2018 edition of our Quarterly Occupational Safety & Health Newsletter. You can read the PDF version here, and the HTML version is available here. Please share the newsletter with your colleagues, either by printing out the PDF and posting it on your bulletin board or by sending them the link. Subscribe to our mailing list now to receive future issues, and please invite your friends to do the same!
The article below is an excerpt from the newsletter, which also features concise, informative items on suspension trauma, bike safety, and National Safety Month.
Sleep Deprivation is Making Us Unsafe at Work
American workers are tired. According a 2017 Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society study, about 36% of U.S. workers sleep less than the recommended minimum of 7 hours per night. The situation is so bad that the CDC has called insufficient sleep an epidemic. This problem has a multitude of causes, but the results are the same for everyone: an increased risk of injury and bad health outcomes. Research consistently shows that fatigue leads to an increased risk of work-related injuries, including during the daily commute. Up to 6,000 fatal crashes each year may be caused by drowsy drivers. Sleep deprivation is also linked to cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, depression, and anxiety.
Workers in some occupations suffer more from sleep deprivation than others, especially those who work in shifts or for long durations. Production workers, health care professionals, and people who prepare and serve food have especially high rates of sleep deprivation, as do people who work in transportation. According to NIOSH, “Time at work continues to increase in the United States. U.S. workers have the longest annual working hours among workers in all wealthy industrialized countries, reducing the time available for sleep.”
Many people try to make up for sleep deprivation by sleeping in on the days they don’t work, but this is ineffective, and may actually make things worse. Ideally, you should try to maintain a relatively uniform sleep schedule throughout the week and develop a routine.
It helps to develop a sleep routine. As bedtime approaches, try to keep your household lights dim, avoid drinking stimulants like caffeine or eating heavy meals, and do your best to reduce or eliminate time with bright screens like TVs or laptops. If your work schedule requires you to sleep when the sun is out, try to make your home as dark as you can, especially in the room where you sleep. If you can make a habit of reading or doing other calm activities in the half hour before going to bed, that should help too. Avoid drinking alcohol before going to sleep. You might go to sleep faster that way, but the quality of your rest will be much lower.
How Employers Can Help
Many of the conditions that drive sleep deprivation in the US are beyond workers’ control. Employers can help to fight the sleeplessness epidemic by educating their employees about the importance of sleep (by, for example, sharing articles like this one) and making sleep-friendly policies a priority. Furthermore, it’s in their interest to do so: while estimates vary, there is a broad consensus that sleep deprivation in the workforce costs employers money, both in terms of lost productivity (people get less done when they’re exhausted) and medical costs (sleeplessness can lead to increased work comp claims).
As much as possible, employers should try to give workers predictable, consistent schedules that balance business needs with the human need for sleep. Avoid scheduling workers for more than five or six consecutive day shifts or four consecutive night shifts, and make sure workers have at least two consecutive days off. Providing opportunities for brief naps in the workplace may also help people to stay alert on the job, and has been shown to improve morale and productivity. Altering workplace designs to increase alertness (for example, by increasing the brightness of the lighting, reducing the temperature, reducing humidity, and reducing droning sounds) may help as well, though ultimately sleep is the only true solution to sleep deprivation.
Are You Too Tired to Drive?
You may not be able to judge whether you’re too tired to be behind the wheel. Look out for these signs that you need to get off the road:
- Yawning or blinking frequently
- Difficulty keeping your head up
- Having a fixed stare
- Difficulty remembering the past few miles driven
- Drifting from your lane or hitting a rumble strip
- Suddenly tailgaiting other vehicles
- Wandering, disconnected thoughts
- Missing your exit