Scientists have already warned people are starting their workdays too early. Now there's even more evidence that their work schedules impact how well--and how long--they sleep.
According to a 2012 survey by the Centers for Disease Control, about 30 percent of Americans aren't getting the rest they need. Beyond not being alert enough to function optimally, the deficiency makes them more prone to getting into car accidents, suffering chronic diseases, and having a shorter life span.
"In the absence of sufficient sleep, we are not as attentive or alert, we process information more slowly, miss or misinterpret social and emotional cues, and decision-making is impaired," explained Orfeu M. Buxton, associate professor of biobehavioral health at Penn State, in a news release. "For example, we may misjudge risks by undervaluing negative consequences and overvaluing potential rewards."
However, there may be a simple solution, according to an article Buxton and his colleagues published in the journal Sleep Health. The researchers followed 474 employees and their supervisors to determine whether flexible work schedules could improve sleep quality and quantity. About half the subjects served as the control while the other half followed a telecommuting schedule.
To encourage work-life balance, employees in the second group were given free rein to decide when and where they worked. All participants wore a sleep-monitoring watch, and, over the course of the study, all were interviewed three times: first to determine their baseline; six months later to observe work-related variables that needed to change, such as stress; and a year later, to see how they were sleeping.
"We showed that an intervention focused on changing the workplace culture could increase the measured amount of sleep employees obtain, as well as their perception that their sleep was more sufficient," Buxton said. Not only did the second group of employees sleep an average of eight minutes longer, they clocked nearly an additional hour of sleep each week--and reported feeling more rested to boot.
Flexible work schedules are far from a silver bullet for a happy workforce. Some managers interpret them as a sign of low job commitment, and others are simply uncomfortable with the idea. But helping employees remain alert seems like something everyone can agree on, and flexible work schedules are one way to do that.