Chances are there are employees in your workplace right now bragging about how they can get by on four to six hours of sleep. They may need to find something else to brag about. They may think they’re getting by, but a lack of sleep causes a wide range of changes in the body, both physical and mental. Beyond the reduced productivity and increased burden on healthcare expenses, these changes can affect your employee health in dramatic ways, including causing premature death.
How Long Should You Sleep?
A 2010 article covering 16 years of research and 1.3 million people concluded that both too little and too much sleep can serve as significant predictors of early death. Those who slept less than five to seven hours a night were 12% more likely to die prematurely. And those who slept more than eight or nine hours were at an even higher risk: 30%.
The sweet spot? Seven to eight hours per night.
Health Risks from Insufficient Sleep
Study after study has found that sleep issues are linked to everything from weight gain to high blood pressure to diabetes. The website Healthline recently described 10 major areas affected by too little sleep.
When you sleep, your brain forms connections that help you process and remember information. A lack of sleep can affect both short-term and long-term memory.
Too little sleep can do more than make you moody; it can lead to anxiety or depression.
- Thinking & Concentration
Getting enough rest is important for creativity, concentration and problem-solving skills.
Drowsiness anytime besides nighttime can lead to falls, car accidents or worse.
Your immune system needs its rest, too. If your defenses are down, you’re more likely to get a cold, the flu or almost anything else.
- Blood Pressure
Sleeping less than five hours a night has been shown to increase risk for high blood pressure.
With too little sleep, your body’s natural release of insulin is affected, raising your blood sugar levels.
When you’ve eaten, chemicals in your body tell your brain your full. Without enough sleep, these chemicals go off balance, leading to overeating.
- Sex Drive
If men don’t get enough sleep, it may lead to a drop in testosterone levels – and a reduced sex drive.
- Heart Disease
Along with increased blood pressure, too little sleep may increase release of the chemicals that lead to inflammation. Both play roles in heart disease.
Why Can’t You Sleep?
Reasons for poor sleep vary. There may be physical factors, such as sleep apnea, or issues related to your sleep habits.
Sleep apnea can be a very serious sleep disorder affecting both the quantity and quality of sleep. If you snore when you sleep, it’s likely that sleep apnea is a factor and you should get medical attention. Sleep apnea has been linked to obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.
However, poor sleep can often be traced to bad sleep habits. Fortunately, as with other bad habits, there are things you can do to improve.
Getting Your Sleep Back on Track
An article in Psychology Today several months ago suggested several ways people could improve their sleep habits. Making these positive changes can improve your sleep and have a great effect on improving your overall health. Here are the four approaches they suggest:
- Quantity or Quality?
Are you not getting enough hours of sleep, or are you not sleeping very well? Improvements in either can make a big difference. Suggestions for improving your quantity of sleep include relaxing before bedtime or meditating. Reducing nighttime light exposure and eliminating computer and smartphone usage within an hour of bedtime may also help. You should also avoid eating high-fat or high-sugar foods, and drinking sweet, caffeinated or alcoholic beverages shortly before bedtime.
- Sleep as a Skill
Sleep should be more than just crashing when you’re tired. When you consider sleep as a skill, one that you can improve with learning and experimentation, bedtime becomes a whole different animal. Try and learn new routines and habits until you find what works best for you.
- Find Your Inner Child
For most people, their best sleeping experiences were as a child. There are, of course, good reasons for that – besides the lack of adult-world stress. You had more consistent sleep schedules. Your parents may have read to you before bedtime. You may have listened to music. Go ahead and find your inner child – and childhood sleep strategies. It could make a big difference in your adult sleep patterns.
- Check Your Attitude
Don’t think of sleep as a waste of your valuable time, or something that gets in the way of your productivity. As you’ve read in this article, sleep is crucial for good physical and mental health. It should be treated as something valuable and a precious time in your life. In fact, a good night’s sleep is the most important thing you can do for your health and happiness.
The Role of Coaching in Better Employee Health and Better Sleep
At Espyr, we know how poor sleep affects employee health – both physical health and psychological health. Our certified, professional behavioral health coaches are trained to discover the often-hidden factors behind physical and psychological health issues. As it relates to sleep, our coaches know that weight gain is often directly linked to sleep issues. This connection has been recently verified in research published in the June 10, 2019 issue of JAMA Internal Medicine. This study of 43,000 women found that exposure to artificial light at night predicted weight gain over five years of follow-up.
Our coaches also know how sleep problems can contribute and exacerbate issues of anxiety and depression. Studies have shown that when those suffering with anxiety or depression were asked to describe their sleeping habits, most reported sleeping for less than six hours a night.
Our comprehensive EAP and portfolio of innovative behavioral coaching programs are designed to help people and organizations achieve their full potential. To learn more about how Espyr can improve employee health at your workplace, please call 888-570-3479.