Chronic Condition Management, Foundational Health Behaviors, Workforce Health | By | 03/15/19 | 3 Minute Read

Promoting Healthy Sleep for Better Workplace Productivity

March 15th is officially designated as World Sleep Day, an annual healthy sleep awareness event launched by members of the medical community involved in sleep medicine and research. The day serves as a call to action on health issues related to sleep, with goals that include lessening the burden of sleep problems and preventing and managing sleep disorders.

More than a third of American adults are not getting enough sleep on a regular basis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Coming up short on the nightly recharge can lead your employees to sleep deprivation, with side effects that include slower task performance and difficulty concentrating. The National Safety Council estimates that fatigued workers cost US employers $1,200 to $3,100 per employee in declining job performance each year, while sleepy workers are estimated to cost employers $136 billion a year in health-related, lost productivity.

In recognition of World Sleep Day, educate your employees about sleep and its integral role in overall health. Sleep supports productivity, fights weight gain, and boosts the immune system. It’s important for your employees to know how the amount–and type–of sleep they get each night may affect them the next day at the office. Here are some ways to foster healthy sleep habits:

Track sleep stages for insights. Fitbit’s longitudinal sleep database offers valuable information on what the body does in each stage of sleep. Since Fitbit began tracking sleep stages, it has collected data from 6 billion nights of sleep. (The data of course is anonymous and averaged, and not associated with individual people.) This sleep data empowers Fitbit users to understand their sleep quality and allows Fitbit researchers to dig deeper into the many benefits of sleep.

If your employees use Fitbit devices, their sleep data may be able to reveal why they’re not getting the best sleep. By tapping into nighttime heart rate and movement patterns, Fitbit devices with the heart rate feature can estimate how much time a person spends in light, deep, and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep which is then captured in the Fitbit app. Each sleep stage serves a different purpose, so understanding how much of each stage a person logs can help identify sleep-related issues.

Sleep researchers divide sleep into five stages—stages 1, 2, 3, and REM—but to keep things simple, Fitbit groups similar sleep stages together. In the app, a person’s sleep falls into three stages: light, deep, and REM. Be aware that the body doesn’t just hit each sleep stage once a night, nor does it spend an equal amount of time in each of them.

Stage 1, or light sleep, is “the sleep that’s a little more choppy, shallow, not restful,” says Michael Grandner, MD, director of the Sleep and Health Research Program at the University of Arizona in Tucson and a Fitbit sleep consultant. “But it’s usually just a quick transition, so a person is not in it for very long.

During stage one, “you’re still hearing things and have a sense of awareness,” says Fitbit sleep consultant Allison Siebern, PhD, consulting assistant professor at The Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine and director of Sleep Health Integrative Program at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Fayetteville, NC. “Your brain has dipped into sleep, but you don’t feel like you’re asleep.”

In stage 2, a person is asleep but can be easily awoken. That said, stage 2 sleep is not shallow, nor is it less important than other sleep stages. “Light sleep is very important because it takes up more than half of the night,” says Grandner. “It’s when your body processes memories and emotions and your metabolism regulates itself.” He notes that body maintenance occurs during lighter stages of sleep, and breathing and heart rate typically decrease slightly.

Stage 3 is considered deep sleep, where a person becomes less responsive to outside stimuli. Breathing slows and muscles relax; heart rate usually becomes more regular. “Deep sleep is very much about the body,” says Grandner. “as it is doing a lot of rebuilding and repairing.” Deep sleep is when your body secretes growth hormone, which is associated with cellular rebuilding and repair. Deep sleep has also been shown to help strengthen your immune system.
A very important stage of sleep is REM. “If deep sleep is about the body, REM is about the brain,” says Grandner. “The brain is very active during REM sleep, yet the body is actively paralyzed during REM sleep.” REM is when most dreaming happens. A person’s heart rate increases, and breathing becomes more irregular. REM is vital for emotion regulation and memory, as the body is clearing the brain of things that aren’t needed. It’s also the peak of protein synthesis at the cellular level, which keeps many processes working properly.

Promote a healthy sleep culture. To help employees do their best work, give them the tools to maintain healthy sleep habits. Consider promoting a healthy sleep culture by setting up sleep workshops and teaching your employees about the different sleep cycles and how sleep affects their productivity.

Another good option is to launch a sleep challenge. To encourage maximum restfulness, learn more about the effects of sleep on your workforce and use the 6 steps outlined here to help you run a successful sleep challenge.

The power nap boost. Finally, you may discover that some employees are dozing while at the office. According to a workplace sleep study conducted by Amerisleep, one in 5 employees reported sleeping at work.

While sleeping on the job may not be ideal, taking a short nap break may benefit your employees. NASA tests demonstrated that pilots who had a cockpit nap of 26 minutes were 54 percent more alert and had improved performance by 34 percent. Research from the Mayo Clinic shows that a short nap of 10 to 20 minutes can have several benefits: reduced fatigue, increased alertness, and improved mood and performance, including quicker reaction time and better memory. So don’t underestimate the power of a short snooze. Sweet dreams!

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