Americans have a sleep deprivation problem, and it's negatively impacting our performance at work.

U.S. workers are getting 1.5 less hours of sleep each night relative to how much we slept a few decades ago (down to less than seven hours a night), and at least one third of workers are chronically sleep-deprived.

All this sleep deprivation is taking a toll on both U.S. employees and the businesses they work for. One study found insomnia causes the equivalent of 11.3 lost days of productivity annually. Tally that up, and it amounts to more than $63 billion in lost productivity across the nation each year.

That's a big number, and employers are starting to take notice. Google now offers "nap pods" for its employees; Aetna provides its employees with monetary incentives to get at least seven hours of sleep each night; Goldman Sachs brings in trainers to educate its employees about the importance of sleep; and Johnson & Johnson provides its employees with digital health coaching programs aimed at combating insomnia. If your company hasn't already hopped on this bandwagon, here's why you should encourage your employees to get more sleep.

It will limit procrastination.

Sleep deprivation directly impairs employees' ability to maintain attention and focus and further impairs employees' ability to make decisions. Combined, these factors can contribute to procrastination and inhibit efficiency in the workplace. Employees who are well rested, on the other hand, will find it easier to stay focused on the job at hand and make sound decisions that improve productivity.

It will help improve creativity and problem solving.

Time and time again, research finds that sleep deprivation can impair cognitive skills including creative thinking and the ability to problem solve. In contrast, getting adequate, high-quality sleep can give these skills a boost. Therefore one of the keys to having an innovative workforce is to ensure your employees consistently get enough sleep.

It will enhance work performance across the board.

Quality sleep has been linked to improvements in everything from discernment to impulse control, focus, problem solving, working memory, the ability to learn and retain new information, emotion management, and other higher-level brain functions. Getting enough sleep can also reduce the risk of making errors on the job and prevent burnout. In short? Sleep is essential for workers to perform their best in virtually every role and every aspect of the workplace.

It will increase workplace safety.

Employees who are sleep deprived are more likely to be involved in workplace accidents and/or suffer workplace industries. One Harvard Medical School study found insomnia may be the cause of more than 274,000 occupational accidents and errors in the U.S. every year--at a cost of $31 billion. If those stats alone don't convince you that employees' sleep should be a major priority, I don't know what will.

It will reduce absenteeism.

Chronic sleep deprivation can cause a variety of health issues ranging from mild to severe. These conditions include everything from chronic fatigue to diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke, and even dementia. It goes almost without saying that employees who are suffering from chronic health conditions are less likely to be engaged at work and more likely to require days off.

It will boost morale.

Virtually any person alive can attest to the fact that sleep deprivation can make us grumpy and irritable. Chronic sleep deprivation can also put employees at risk for depression, which is a major productivity killer. In contrast, employees who are well-rested will enjoy better mental and emotional wellbeing, which can also lead to better relationships between coworkers. The individual and communal benefits of a well-rested workforce result in improved morale across the board. And a happier workforce is a more productive workforce.

Now that you understand why it's critical for employees to get more sleep, it's time to put that knowledge into action. Make quality sleep a company-wide priority by ensuring that employees aren't being overworked, offering flexible work schedules, instructing employees not to check email or do work in the evenings, allowing employees to take power naps at work, providing employee training regarding the importance of sleep, ponying up the funds to help employees purchase new mattresses (since mattress quality has a big impact on sleep), encouraging employees to use vacation days, and making sure executives model healthy sleep habits. In short? Better workplace productivity begins with employers affirming the value of sleep.

Published on: Apr 4, 2017