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Losing Just 16 Minutes of Sleep Can Impact Stress and Job Performance

Losing Just 16 Minutes of Sleep Can Impact Stress and Job Performance

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Research from the University of South Florida finds just how important it is to get your eight hours of sleep each night.

Even though it's one of the most effective forms of self-care, sleep often gets put on the back burner. After all, there are families to take care of, deadlines to meet—and, let's be real, TV shows that won't just watch themselves.

While everyone stays up too late sometimes (and that’s totally okay), a new study shows just how losing even a few minutes of sleep at night can impact cognitive function and stress levels—making us more likely to be foggy, distracted, or off-task during the work week.

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The study, conducted at the University of South Florida and published in the journal Sleep Heath, found simply going to bed 16 minutes later or waking up 19 minutes earlier than normal can have a major impact on cognitive function the following day. The temporal associations of sleep duration and quality showed to have an impact on the next day’s cognitive interference during the work week but not on off-days.

Not only was job performance impaired, but the authors of this study noted quality of life was also impaired as well. Stress levels rose on the days when participants weren’t receiving adequate sleep, and they were also more frustrated when they felt they couldn’t work efficiently during the work day. While there have been many studies on the effects of sleep on daily stressors and mental health, this is one the first studies to compare how nightly sleep impacted next-day cognitive function on work days and non-work days.

Interested in learning more about the health benefits of sleep?

Researchers surveyed and analyzed the sleep habits of 130 participants—all of which had at least one child—and how frequently they felt distracted or off-task during each day. For eight consecutive days, participants had to share multiple sleep characteristics—bedtimes and wake times, sleep quality, sleep duration, and sleep latency—and rank how much they felt they were experiencing impaired job performance the next day on a 1-4 scale. The researchers noted they took into account sociodemographic characteristics and work hours for this study.

The bottom line: Unfortunately some seasons of life are going to leave us more sleep-deprived than others, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive for the recommended 7-9 hours when possible. Even if it means changing your nightly (or morning) routine to ensure an earlier bedtime, the benefits of less stress and a more consistent sleep schedule can make a huge impact on not only job performance, but your risk for chronic diseases, your weight, and your immunity.

How Sleep Impacts Your Mental and Physical Well-Being

We all know that sleep is important, but many people push back their bedtime to accommodate a busy life. While neglecting sleep may seem productive in the moment, a sleep deficit can severely impact on almost every area of mental and physical health. On the other hand, getting enough sleep can help reduce inflammation, make it easier to maintain a healthy weight, and improve everything from mental health to memory. Given that over 30% of Americans don’t get enough sleep (1), it’s worth considering the many benefits of sleeping soundly.

How Much Sleep Do I Need?

You might be thinking that you’re sleeping an adequate amount each night. The truth is, you could be severely under-sleeping according to the current recommended sleep duration (2) for your age group.

  • Newborns: 16-18 hours a day
  • Preschool-Aged Children: 11-12 hours a day
  • School-Aged Children: At least 10 hours a day
  • Teens: 9-10 hours a day
  • Adults: 7-8 hours a day

Adults should sleep for 7-8 hours a night, but over 30% of Americans report getting less than six hours of sleep per night. When you’re not getting enough sleep, your body accumulates a sleep debt, a sleep deficit that can add up over time and impact your well-being.

Helps Improve your Health

Losing sleep can mean that your body is less prepared to fight off viruses, infections and can make you more susceptible to conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure (3). When you are tired your body produces more cortisol, a hormone that impacts stress. This hormone is also closely linked to heart attacks and heart disease.

Adequate sleep also has a direct impact on lesser-known parts of our immune system. The Centers for Disease Control reports that reducing your sleep by even a few hours can drastically decrease the effectiveness of the NK cells that help fight off tumors (4). In a follow-up survey, researchers discovered that reducing the ability of these NK cells was associated with a higher risk of cancer mortality.

Are you getting a vaccine soon? Vaccines appear to be more effective if you’ve had enough sleep. A study in 2012 found that getting adequate sleep after a vaccine helped the body produce the necessary amount of T-cells to fight off viruses (5).

Helps With Inflammation

Chronic inflammation is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer (6), among many other health concerns. Researchers have found that sleep deprivation can seriously impact your body’s inflammation levels, enough that people who sleep poorly are more likely to develop chronic inflammation.

Inflammation is also closely tied to many skin conditions. Disrupting our body’s circadian rhythms can lead to increased skin inflammation (7), as can some sleep disorders such as sleep apnea.

Reduces Impact of Depression

Getting a good night’s sleep helps everyone feel refreshed and ready for the day ahead, but people who suffer from depression may experience an even greater benefit.

Depression is a mental health disorder that affects over 300 million people (8) a year worldwide. 80% (9) of people suffering from depression report experiencing at least one symptom of insomnia, and the struggle to sleep worsens with age.

Research shows that treating sleep disturbances alongside depression helps reduce the overall impact of depression’s symptoms. In a 2016 study, using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to address sleep/wake behaviors improved the quality of sleep (10) in test participants. This, in turn, ultimately reduced their symptoms of depression. CBT is a therapeutic modality that works to create behavioral change by addressing the thoughts and feelings that drive behavior (11). Subsequent studies also support using CBT to treat sleep disorders (12) and alleviate the impact of depression’s symptoms.

Reduces Impact of Anxiety

Anxiety disorders, which affect 20% of Americans (13), can substantially impact both health and well-being. As with many mental health conditions, anxiety disorders can also make it harder to sleep. Symptoms of anxiety (14), both physical and mental, can prevent people from getting the rest they need. Sleep deprivation, in turn, can then trigger or exacerbate (15) the symptoms of anxiety.

There is some good news. Studies show that common treatments for anxiety (16), such as CBT, also help address sleeping issues. Low impact movements, like yoga or tai chi, have also been shown to reduce anxiety and increase the quality of sleep (17). These and other relaxation exercises can easily be integrated into sleep routines, helping to both manage anxiety and increase the likelihood of a good night’s rest.

Helps With Weight

Exhausted adults who sleep less than their peers are more likely to be overweight or obese (18). A 2019 study found that making up for sleep debt by sleeping in during the weekend had no counter effects on weight gain (19), meaning that people who want to maintain a lower weight may want to consider making sleep a nightly priority.

Sleep deprivation directly affects the levels of two hormones (20), ghrelin and leptin, that are closely tied to hunger and weight. Levels of ghrelin — the so-called “hunger hormone” — increase, stimulating your appetite. The counterpart to ghrelin is leptin, a hormone that the body uses to tell your brain that you’re full. Leptin levels decrease when you’re tired, making it harder to stop eating even once you’re satiated.

Sleep can also help if you’re looking to gain weight. Studies show that sleep impacts your body’s ability to repair and gain muscle. Researchers in 2019 found that sleep deprivation improved weight lifters' endurance (21) and weight capacity when training. Since physical activity also positively impacts sleep quality, it’s a win-win situation!

Helps Improve Memory and Learning

If you want to do well on an upcoming test, you better make sure you’re getting enough sleep! Research shows that sleep directly impacts our ability to retain and learn new information (22). It also improves our mood, problem-solving ability, and overall memory. Getting enough shut-eye gives your brain enough time to build neurological connections, a key factor in both memory and cognition, enhancing your ability to learn and remember when you’re awake.

Improves Performance and Productivity

Not getting enough sleep can make you feel drowsy, forgetful, and lethargic. Lack of sleep can impair your ability to complete high functioning tasks (23), which in turn can reduce job performance. Getting enough sleep means that when you’re at work you’re safer on the job and are able to respond quicker. When you’re exhausted you are less likely to feel motivated to be productive, allowing tasks at work or home to slip by unattended which can lead to stress further down the road. Sleep also reduces mood swings (24) and provides better emotional capacity to deal with upsetting situations.

How to Get Better Sleep

With just a few lifestyle changes, you can see an improvement in your sleeping patterns and quality. Start by looking at your current nighttime routine. Are you eating too close before you go to bed? Are you sleeping on an old mattress? Are you staring at your screen while in bed? The way we prepare for sleep can impact how we fall asleep and stay asleep.

Creating a sleep hygiene protocol that you can stick to most nights will go a long way towards improving your sleep. If you still struggle to get enough shut-eye, consider speaking to your doctor about potential sleep disorders that might be standing in your way.

Your body on stress – What exactly is stress and how does your body handle it?

Stress is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances.”

In short, it is the way by which your body experiences and manages external pressures, whether they are mental or physical.

A normal level of stress can actually be good for the body and can motivate you to work harder, focus and even improve performance.

But, this is only the case when the cause of the stress is short term. Too much stress can have the opposite effect and lead to chronic health problems. To understand why, it is important to know how exactly your body responds to stress on a physiological level.

Normally, when faced with a situation of stress, your nervous system causes your body to release stress hormones, particularly cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline.

This is part of what is known as the “fight or flight” response in the body and it’s the system that gets you ready to fight or flee your challenge or dangerous situation. These hormones subside once the external threat is removed and the body begins to relax again.

But, when you are under stress continuously, this aggravation to the nervous system doesn’t subside and it can have a devastating effect on your overall health.

Incessant stress causes your blood pressure to be continuously raised, putting a strain on your heart and circulatory system. Breathing is affected, heartbeat becomes rapid and you might be in a near constant state of holding your breath or hyperventilation.

With long term stress, muscles are continuously tense, which might cause headaches and neck strain and continued, heightened levels of cortisol can cause weight gain and inflammation in the body, leading to a suppressed immune system.

Digestion is also affected, as raised cortisol levels cause you to crave and eat more fatty foods, as it helps your body prepare for a dangerous and threatening situation and you might start to suffer from heartburn and acid reflux, as your stomach produces more acid during times of stress.

Your endocrine system, regulated by the brain, is also affected. This can have an effect on everything from mood and tissue health to blood sugar metabolism and reproduction.

It’s no wonder you can’t sleep when your stress levels are raised, as your body is in an ever-ready fight mode on a physiological level, ready to tackle whatever danger is coming your way.

Stress Dreams: Why Do We Have Them ― and How to Stop?

Contributors: Michelle Drerup, PsyD, DBSM and Alexa Kane, PsyD.

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There are a lot of areas of sleep that science and medicine can understand and explain. But dreams are an entirely different territory, as the question ‘why we dream’ remains largely unanswered.

Vivid and frequent dreaming is often left open to interpretation through things like dream dictionaries and discussing with friends. Did that dream about your ex-boss really mean you have pent-up guilt and anxiety about your last job? Frequently having stress or anxiety-ridden dreams is usually a red flag for real life stress and the role it’s playing on your body. If you’re constantly waking up panicking in a cold sweat over a dream, it’s time to get your thoughts and stress in order.

Stress: we all have it, but it doesn’t have to control us

Stress is an emotional, physical or mental tension that results from something that’s outside of us.

Some of the bigger stressors or stressful life events include moving to a new place, changing roles at school or work, relationship issues or losing a family member. Stress can cause sleep difficulties, including insomnia, by making it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. This impacts the quality of rest. Stress can also cause hyperarousal, which can upset the balance between sleep and wakefulness.

Being stressed is associated with poor sleep in general, and may trigger more frequent dreams. So it’s not uncommon to experience a distressing dream prior to a big event like a job interview, taking an exam or an important appointment.

And although there’s limited research about controlling the content of dreams, anxiety dreams can generally be a result of increased stress during our day-to-day lives. Daily stress can also increase the frequency of these dreams.

The good news? You have a great deal of control over your stress. If you learn to better manage stress in your life, you’ll likely decrease anxiety-ridden dreams and improve your sleep.

Here are four simple strategies to help your mind and body relax before turning in for the night:

  • Spend time winding down before bed: This can be thought of as a “buffer zone,” which is a period of time to allow the activating processes in the brain to wind down and allow your sleep system to take over. It’s generally a good rule of thumb to start about an hour before bedtime. During this time, engage in relaxing activities that you enjoy like reading or listening to music.
  • Schedule “worry time”: If you’re finding it difficult to control your worrying prior to bedtime, scheduling a specific time when you’re allowed to worry may help. Find a time that’s convenient for you and write down your concerns. Limit the time to a specific amount and stick to it by planning something to do afterward. For example, you can plan 15 minutes in the evening, before your favorite TV show.
  • Think of your bedroom as a place just for sleep, sex and pleasant activities: Try to limit the time you spend in bed worrying or being anxious. If you find yourself lying awake in bed stressed out, leave the bedroom and spend time in another room until you feel sleepy.
  • Practice relaxation techniques: There are other ways to relax while getting ready for bed, such as breathing exercises, guided imagery and progressive muscle relaxation movements. (You can even check out free apps that help guide you through these exercises.) These techniques can be some of the most critical aspects of stress management and you can use them close to bedtime or throughout your day.

When you wake up panicking at 3 a.m.

We’ve all been there – a nightmare or stress dream causes you to wake up. The next thing you know you’re lying there overthinking your finances and everything you have to do the next day.

When this happens, what can you do to get back to sleep?

  • Stop watching the clock: Counting the minutes will only heighten your distress. Turn your alarm clock around and don’t pick up your phone.
  • Try to relax your body: Use a relaxation strategy that helped prior to bed to relax your body and mind.
  • Get out of bed: If you can’t fall back to sleep after a stressful dream, then try getting out of bed to help decrease the frustration. Don’t spend time in bed hopelessly trying to get back to sleep or interpreting your dream. (If your dream caused you anxiety, you may find yourself attempting to interpret it. But this can further increase the worry. This process will result in your brain associating your bed with stress and not sleeping well.) Once you leave your bed, find an activity that is uninteresting or boring. When you start to get drowsy, go back to bed.

Since dreams obviously aren’t measurable, there’s no real answer to what meaning they hold in our day-to-day life. But we do know that we generally have control over daily stress, which can trigger weird or anxiety-clad dreams. Learning to control the crazy and manage your stress is your best defense to help you sleep peacefully.

Does Anxiety Go Away?

For those people that are diagnosed with a legitimate anxiety disorder, the condition is unlikely to go away. Some people may be able to better control their anxiety disorder with the help and guidance of a therapist or psychologist, and medications may help further control the condition. There may also be specific coping mechanisms to help manage anxiety disorders, however, a permanent “cure” for anxiety does not currently exist.

For those that do not suffer from an anxiety disorder, but only have occasional or intermittent anxiety from time-to-time, this is normal and healthy behavior for many people. Temporary anxiety is likely to diminish over time, and if it is related to a specific place or person, removing yourself from those situations may help the anxiety go away after some time.

The Impact of Sleepiness on Mood and Mental Health

Lack of sleep can alter your mood significantly. It causes irritability and anger and may lessen your ability to cope with stress. According to the NSF, the “walking tired” are more likely to sit and seethe in traffic jams and quarrel with other people. Sleep-deprived people polled by the NSF were also less likely than those who sleep well to exercise, eat healthfully, have sex, and engage in leisure activities because of sleepiness.


“Over time, impaired memory, mood, and other functions become a chronic way of life,” says Siebern. “In the long term, this can affect your job or relationships.”

Chronic sleepiness puts you at greater risk for depression. They are so closely linked that sleep specialists aren’t always sure which came first in their patients. “Sleep and mood affect each other,” says Verceles. “It’s not uncommon for people who don’t get enough sleep to be depressed or for people who are depressed to not sleep well enough.”

10 Signs You're Burning Out -- And What To Do About It

By Lisa M. Gerry

Several years ago, I started a job that, for all intents and purposes, was my dream job. At least, it's what I spent four years of college and two years of internships preparing for. This was my big break, and I was not going to squander it.

I’m of the mindset that while I may not be the smartest or most talented person in the room, I’ll earn my spot at the table with my impressive work ethic. So, I got in early to my office job, stayed late, worked weekends—all the while obsessively worrying about my performance and my future.

Looking back, it’s obvious that my lifestyle wasn’t sustainable. But back then, I wore my workaholism like a badge of honor. The way I saw it, I had an awesome job and would work as hard as it took to do well.

As time went by, any semblance of a balanced life went out the window. I had no energy or desire to hang out with my friends, I was neglecting my health and I had become disillusioned with my work. There wasn't one single catalyst—it wasn't that I stopped liking the kind of work I did, generally speaking.

Instead, it was a classic case of burnout: multiple, chronic stressors over an extended period of time left me totally drained and no longer performing at my best. In a few short years, I went from bright-eyed and bushy-tailed to seriously burnt out. Here are signs you could be headed down the same path.

What Exactly Is Burnout?

As it turns out, my story isn’t uncommon many millennial women are experiencing job burnout before they even turn 30. The American Psychological Association’s David Ballard, PsyD describes job burnout as “an extended period of time where someone experiences exhaustion and a lack of interest in things, resulting in a decline in their job performance.”

“A lot of burnout really has to do with experiencing chronic stress,” says Dr. Ballard, who is the head of the APA’s Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program. “In those situations, the demands being placed on you exceed the resources you have available to deal with the stressors.”

Left unchecked, burnout can wreak havoc on your health, happiness, relationships and job performance. In order to catch burnout and combat it early, it’s important to know what to look out for.

Dr. Ballard let us in on 10 signs you may be experiencing burnout:

1. Exhaustion

A clear sign of burnout is when you feel tired all the time. Exhaustion can be emotional, mental or physical. It’s the sense of not having any energy, of being completely spent.

2. Lack of Motivation

When you don’t feel enthusiastic about anything anymore or you no longer have that internal motivation for your work, there's a good chance you're experiencing burnout. Other ways this manifests? It may be harder to get going in the morning and more difficult to drag yourself into work every day.

3. Frustration, Cynicism and Other Negative Emotions

You may feel like what you’re doing doesn’t matter that much anymore, or you may be disillusioned with everything. You might notice that you feel more generally pessimistic than you used to. While everybody experiences some negative emotions from time to time, it’s important to know when these are becoming unusual for you.

4. Cognitive Problems

Burnout and chronic stress may interfere with your ability to pay attention or concentrate. When we're stressed, our attention narrows to focus on the negative element that we perceive as a threat. In the short term, this helps us deal with the problem at hand, Dr. Ballard says, "but our bodies and brains are designed to handle this in short bursts and then return to normal functioning. When stress becomes chronic, this narrow focus continues for a long time and we have difficulty paying attention to other things."

This "fight or flight" tunnel vision can negatively affect your ability to solve problems or make decisions. You might find that you’re more forgetful and have a harder time remembering things.

5. Slipping Job Performance

Not sure whether you're burnt out? Compare your job performance now to your performance in previous years. Because burnout tends to happen over an extended period of time, taking this long-term view might reveal whether you're in a temporary slump or experiencing more chronic burnout.

6. Interpersonal Problems at Home and at Work

This tends to play out in one of two ways: (a) You’re having more conflicts with other people, such as getting into arguments, or (b) you withdraw, talking to your coworkers and family members less. You might find that even when you’re physically there, you’re tuned out.

7. Not Taking Care of Yourself

When suffering from burnout, some people engage in unhealthy coping strategies like drinking too much, smoking, being too sedentary, eating too much junk food, not eating enough or not getting enough sleep. Self-medication is another issue and could include relying on sleeping pills to sleep, drinking more alcohol at the end of the day to de-stress or even drinking more coffee to summon up the energy to drag yourself into work in the morning.

8. Being Preoccupied With Work . When You're Not at Work

Even though you might not be working at a given moment, if you’re expending mental energy mulling over your job, then your work is interfering with your ability to recover from the stresses of your day. In order to recover, you need time to yourself after the actual task stops . and time when you stop thinking about that task altogether.

9. Generally Decreased Satisfaction

This is the tendency to feel less happy and satisfied with your career and with your home life. You might feel dissatisfied or even stuck when it comes to whatever is going on at home, in the community or with your social activities, Dr. Ballard says.

10. Health Problems

Over a long period of time, serious chronic stress can create real health problems like digestive issues, heart disease, depression and obesity.

And If You Are Experiencing Burnout?

Dr. Ballard let us in on what to do if you recognize the above symptoms in yourself.

Take Relaxation Seriously

Whether you take up meditation, listening to music, reading a book, taking a walk or visiting with friends and family, truly think about what you'll do to relax, and designate time for it.

Cultivate a Rich Non-Work Life

Find something outside of work that you are passionate about that's challenging, engaging and really gets you going—whether a hobby, sports or fitness activities or volunteering in the community (along with other items we mention here, like relaxation, being able to "turn off" and participating in rewarding non-work activities).

While communication technology can promote productivity, it can also allow work stressors seep into family time, vacation and social activities. Set boundaries by turning off cell phones at dinner and delegating certain times to check email.

Get Enough Sleep

Research suggests that having fewer than six hours of sleep per night is a major risk factor for burnout, not least because poor sleep can have negative effects on your job performance and productivity. It can lead to fatigue, decrease your motivation, make you more sensitive to stressful events, impair your mental function, leave you more susceptible to errors and make it harder to juggle competing demands. The reverse is true, too: We've seen that sleep can actually improve your memory.

Recovering from chronic stress and burnout requires removing or reducing the demands on you and replenishing your resources. Sleep is one strategy for replenishing those resources. For inspiration, check out our tips to get better sleep.

Get Organized

Often, when people are burnt out, they spend a lot of time worrying that they’ll forget to do something or that something important is going to slip through the cracks. Get organized, clear your head, put together a to-do list (or an electronic task list) then prioritize. That way, you don’t have to keep thinking about those things because you’ll have systems in place to remind you.

Stay Attuned

It’s important to tune into the precursors of those conditions, physical signs that you might be under too much stress: more headaches, tight shoulders, a stiff neck or more frequent stomach upset. In terms of mental health, burnout affects depression, and if you’re depressed, that can also affect your level of burnout—it goes both ways. So, if the issues you’re struggling with are really serious and getting worse, you may need to seek professional help. Talk to a psychologist to get help beyond support from just your friends and family members.

Know When It's You, and When It's Them

Burnout is sometimes motivated by internal factors, Dr. Ballard says, and sometimes it really is a symptom of external ones. In the first case, you'll need to ask yourself, "Where is this coming from?" so you can figure out what's stressing you out, and how to maintain your internal resources to keep yourself motivated, doing your best work and functioning well.

Some burnout really is the fault of work. "In a survey we did in 2011, more than two-thirds of respondents said that their employers had taken steps to cut costs as a result of the recession," like hiring freezes, layoffs, cutting work hours, rolling back benefits, requiring unpaid days off, increasing hours, etc. All that increases demands on workers," he says. "Those are the two components that play into burnout: There are more demands and fewer resources." To find out whether it's time to move on, figure out whether your position is a "mismatch between your needs and what you're getting working for that particular organization."

Figure Out When Enough Is Enough

Consider talking to your manager or HR about EAP services, mental health benefits or stress management training—or at least about how to improve communication and create a better, more positive work environment. Angle the conversation about how those cultural shifts will enable you to continue to serve the company and become an even better employee.

"I do think there are times when, no matter what you try to do, the organization is unable or unwilling to make those changes," Dr. Ballard says, "and in those cases, it is just time to move on."

Sleepy and unsafe

Research has shown that inadequate sleep can affect workers&rsquo ability to remain healthy and perform their work safely &ndash and in safety-sensitive positions, can even put others in harm&rsquos way.

  • A 2012 survey conducted by the Arlington, VA-based National Sleep Foundation found that 11 percent of transportation workers polled admitted showing up to work feeling sleepy. Additionally, 20 percent of pilots and train operators and 15 percent of truck drivers said lack of sleep had directly caused at least one serious incident or near miss in their careers.
  • A study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (Vol. 54, No. 7) concluded that sleep deficiency was associated with higher rates of musculoskeletal pain and functional limitations among health care workers. Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health Center for Work, Health and Well-Being found that more than half of nurse participants were sleep-deprived and three-fourths reported pain, with some indicating that the pain interfered with their work.
  • A study from researchers at Brigham and Women&rsquos Hospital in Boston found that workers who rely on visual perception &ndash including power-plant monitors, air-traffic controllers and baggage screeners &ndash are at risk of not being able to perform their work adequately if they become sleep-deprived. As part of the study, published in the Journal of Vision (Vol. 12, No. 7), participants who were asked to sleep for less than six hours a night for several weeks became slower at identifying visual information in computerized tests even though they reported feeling little difference in sleepiness.

Inadequate sleep affects many essential aspects of working safely, according to Thomas Balkin, chief of the Department of Behavioral Biology at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and former chairperson of the board of directors for the National Sleep Foundation. Sleep deprivation can significantly reduce workers&rsquo reaction time, motor control, decision-making ability and situational awareness, Balkin said.

Are your workers sleep deprived?

A study on fatigue risk management in workplaces, published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (Vol. 54, No. 2), identified the following signs that an employee&rsquos sleep may be compromised:

Physical signs &ndash Frequent yawning, drooped head or eyelids, rubbing one&rsquos eyes, and microsleeps (unnoticed periods of sleep lasting less than one second to 30 seconds)
Mental and performance signs &ndash Difficulty in ability to concentrate on tasks, inattention, compromised memory and recall, forgetting to communicate important information, and incorrectly performing tasks
Emotional and behavioral signs &ndash Becoming uncharacteristically quiet, withdrawn or moody low energy and lacking motivation to perform work well

NSF research shows that people in the United States get 20 percent less sleep than a century ago &ndash mainly due to self-imposed sleep deprivation. Michael Breus, a clinical psychologist who specializes in sleep disorders, said one of the root causes of the U.S. &ldquosleep epidemic&rdquo is the societal belief that sleep is not a priority. &ldquoIf you are going to work more hours, you are going to spend less time on sleep &ndash because you are not going to spend less time on family and friends,&rdquo Breus said.

A 2012 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that in 2010, 30 percent of U.S. workers reported sleeping an average of less than six hours per night &ndash less than the NSF-recommended seven to nine hours for adults. John Caldwell, a sleep, health and fatigue risk management consultant with Buffalo, WY-based Miller Ergonomics, believes the U.S. economy is partially at fault.

&ldquoWork hours have been steadily increasing over previous decades. As that occurs, you have less time to take care of family responsibilities, so where does that time come from? You then try and train yourself to sleep less every day,&rdquo Caldwell said.

Stress can be another factor for workers. &ldquoWhen they turn off the light and are lying in bed, it is really the first time they have had to themselves,&rdquo Breus said. &ldquoAnd all these thoughts just flood in and overtake them. It amps them up, and they are not going to fall asleep.&rdquo

The decision to forgo sleep affects a person&rsquos ability to perform work safely, Breus said, adding that the effects on motor skills and reaction time are most serious for jobs that involve heavy equipment. &ldquoFor workers running a forklift, driving a truck, using heavy equipment, they are absolutely, positively going to be slower to react and not be able to perform with the acuity necessary to do whatever the job is,&rdquo he said.

Balkin described one of the most dangerous aspects of going to work sleep-deprived: Over a long period of time, workers become very limited in their ability to detect how sleepy they actually are.

&ldquoWe are unable to cognitively remember what it felt like when we got enough sleep,&rdquo Balkin said. &ldquoThis is how we get into cycles where we find it acceptable to get less than the recommended amount.&rdquo

Long-term cumulative sleep loss also affects a worker&rsquos health, according to Michael Twery, director of the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research in the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute&rsquos Division of Lung Diseases at the National Institutes of Health. &ldquoThe purpose of sleep is for each major internal system to recharge and realign over time, if you prevent each system from doing what it needs to do, it can lead to issues with the bloodstream and hormone levels,&rdquo Twery said. This is directly related to serious health issues such as hypertension, obesity and diabetes, he added.

Can workers &lsquocatch up&rsquo on sleep?

In a 2013 survey conducted by the Arlington, VA-based National Sleep Foundation, 56 percent of respondents reported sleeping more on weekends or non-workdays than on workdays. Among all respondents, U.S. adults averaged 7 hours and 22 minutes of sleep on those days versus an average of about six-and-a-half hours on workdays.

However, a recent study suggests that catch-up sleep may not make workers safer. In a study published online Oct. 1, 2013, in the American Journal of Physiology &ndash Endocrinology and Metabolism, participants who slept six hours for six consecutive nights did not improve their performance on tests measuring their attention after they slept for 10 hours for three nights. Although participants reported feeling less stressed and sleepy after the three-day &ldquoweekend,&rdquo they were still affected by the long-term sleep deprivation, researchers concluded.

Encouraging better sleep among workers

Changing the societal perspectives on the importance of adequate sleep will take time, Caldwell said. &ldquoWe still, as a culture, admire the guy who pulls the all-nighter and goes and works the next day or gets in his [vehicle] and drives halfway across the country,&rdquo he said. &ldquoWe look at that person and go, &lsquoWow, what a guy!&rsquo This is despite the years of research that show this guy is just as dangerous on the highway, if not more so, as someone who is intoxicated.&rdquo

Employers should address sleep deprivation by educating workers on good sleep habits and including sleep patterns in wellness assessments, Caldwell said. Additionally, Twery recommends safety professionals encourage employees to see a medical professional if their sleep deprivation appears, or may become, serious.

Simply telling employees they need more sleep will have little impact, Breus said, unless the message can be made personal. For example, a worker could be made aware that he might not be able to spend as many years with his grandson because lack of sleep is damaging his health. &ldquoIn terms of education, it has to be personal and at their level. It does not matter until it hits their hot button,&rdquo Breus said.

David Kuhlmann, medical director of the Sedalia, MO-based Bothwell Regional Health Center&rsquos Bothwell Sleep Center, recommends safety and health professionals seriously consider establishing napping facilities in the workplace. He said employees could use the facilities after lunch or during a shift break to take a quick 10- to 15-minute nap. Naps have been proven to boost employee morale and efficiency, and will reduce the likelihood of workers abusing substances to help stay alert, Kuhlmann said.

Effects of Insomnia

"We are all familiar with the short-term effects of sleep deprivation — it makes you feel crummy, grumpy, and sleepy," Dr. Neumeyer says. "The long-term effects can actually be pretty serious and can include obesity, depression, loss of memory, and serious accidents.”

Sleep deprivation can cause these additional negative consequences:

  • Mood changes from sleep deprivation include irritability, lack of motivation, and anxiety.
  • Performance effects include inattention, inability to concentrate, longer reaction times, and poor decision making.
  • Long-term physical effects may add to your risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes.

The Next Step: Talk to Your Doctor About Your Memory Concerns

If you suspect that your memory problem is serious, I urge you to talk to your doctor.

Insist that they look for any possible underlying health conditions and reassess your medications.

The answer could be something as simple as correcting a vision or hearing problem, addressing a nutritional deficiency, or adjusting your medications.

Make sure that you are taking the right dosage and that you aren’t exposing yourself to harmful drug interactions.

Discuss whether all the medications you take are absolutely necessary.

Investigate whether there are better ways to treat your health issues such as practicing stress reduction techniques or making changes in diet, exercise, or other lifestyle factors.

Before your appointment, download the Alzheimer’s Association’s 10-point dementia symptom checklist.

You can use this checklist as talking points to discuss with your doctor.

Also, ask your doctor whether you should take the Self-Administered Gerocognitive Exam, or SAGE test, before your appointment.

It was designed at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center to detect early signs of memory loss and other cognitive impairments.

You can easily take this written test at home using paper and pencil.

The results of your test can help your doctor decide whether further evaluation is needed.

It can also be used as a baseline to monitor any changes in your memory over time.

If You Have a Bad Memory: Take the Next Step

People of all ages can experience some issues with memory loss.

Having a bad memory can be worrying, but fortunately, it is rarely serious.

But if you have reason to believe that your memory loss is serious, talk to your doctor.

You need to rule out medications and underlying health conditions as causes of your memory loss.

But, regardless of your situation, your memory can benefit from adopting a brain-healthy lifestyle.


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  2. Helenus

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  3. Vut

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  4. Dami

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  5. Sargent

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