The Dangers of Sleep Deprivation in the Workplace

Sleep Deprivation

Going without an hour of sleep here or there, workers can learn to just persevere. They may even take pride in it. The dedicated worker pulling an all-nighter, the hero pulling a double shift to cover an absence — foregoing sleep in favour of work is often celebrated and glorified.

It’s a dangerous attitude. Getting enough sleep, every night, is as vital to health as a good diet and exercise. And yet, Statistics Canada found that nearly one third of Canadians do not get the recommended amount of sleep per night.

Who Does Sleep Deprivation Affect?

Overall, men are more likely to sleep less than the recommended 7–9 hours. Households with a lower education and income also trend with less sleep.

In terms of occupation, shift workers are less likely to get enough sleep. Commercial transportation jobs, such as trucking, are liable to see workers suffering sleep deprivation, along with nursing, policing, and paramedics.

What’s worrying about these trends are the people in these jobs are responsible for decisions and actions that can be the difference between life and death while they’re on the job.

Effects of Sleep Deprivation on the Body

Sleep deprivation takes a real toll on the human body. Among the effects that may manifest, the workplace may be affected by:

  • Reduced capacity for thinking and concentration, which can affect decision-making and general speed of work.
  • Physical fatigue and poor balance, meaning the risk of everything from falling to improper use of heavy machinery increases
  • Irritability, damaging workplace relationships and communication
  • Weakened immune system, affecting the body’s ability to combat other issues
  • Alertness and reasoning decline, leaving the person at risk of accident affecting themselves or others

The Cost of Sleep Deprivation in the Workplace

It’s not hard to connect the dots between the effects of sleep deprivation and the company’s bottom line. A trucking incident on the road, a mistake in a patient’s care, or a fumble at a critical moment — when sleep deprivation’s in play, the worst can happen.

If sleep deprivation becomes routine, the new normal, the worst will happen, sooner or later. When you consider that someone suffering from sleep deprivation long-term may come to see their condition as normal, companies must take this issue seriously.

Of course, you should try to educate your workers on the dangers of sleep deprivation and encourage them to ensure they’re getting enough sleep — especially for roles where they’re at risk of making extremely costly mistakes.

You may also look at reducing shift lengths or explore different shift rotations and scheduling. If you’re able to leave after-hours communication until the next day, do so, so that they don’t feel compelled to respond to late night emails. You may also want to see if an employee has a particularly high workload and see about reducing it.

Sleep Deprivation as a Result of Sleeping Disorders

In some cases, a person may be diagnosed with a sleep-related disorder such as insomnia or narcolepsy. These can certainly affect how sleep deprived a person is and may present a particular challenge for your workplace as you seek to accommodate them while providing a safe and productive work environment for the rest of your staff.

If you do find yourself in this situation, you may want to consider an Independent Medical Examination to help you make the right decision. You’ll get access to sleep disorder experts and have a better idea of what’s going on and what your responsibilities are. Don’t be afraid to reach out to our Medical Director Dr. Roger Hodkinson for a quick, no-obligation chat any time, at +1 780 433 1191.

You may also be interested in learning more about medicalization — the process by which non-medical issues incorrectly become elevated to the status of medical disorder.

If you’re frequently dealing with medical issues with employees, start here to get more useful information.