Your Employees’ Sleep Problems Are Costing Your Business Time And Money

Poor-quality sleep can affect workers’ mood and judgment–and result in serious health problems.

Your Employees’ Sleep Problems Are Costing Your Business Time And Money
[Photo: Flickr user Aaron Jacobs]

Did you lose a day or two of work last year because you slept poorly the night before? You’re far from alone, according to new results from the World Sleep Survey.


The study, which was conducted by researchers at the University of Oxford in collaboration with U.K.-based health care company called Big Health, found that full-time employees in the U.S. lose an average of seven days of work per year due to poor-quality sleep. And those who report that their sleep is of “less than average” quality lose more than 13 days. More than 20,000 people participated in the survey.

Widely cited research from 2011 prompted employers to take a closer look at sleep. Researchers from Harvard University interviewed more than 7,000 people by phone, and found that insomnia results in the loss of 11 days of work per year. As a nation, that represents a total loss of $63.2 billion.

Poor-quality sleep can result can affect mood and judgment, and result in serious health problems. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently declared insufficient sleep a “public health epidemic,” with some 18 million people in the U.S. reporting that sleep troubles impacted their job performance.

Noel Lindsay, a Bay Area-based sleep expert, is not surprised that exhausted employees are skipping work. “When you don’t sleep well, you’ll experience a serious degree of cognitive impairment,” he said. Lindsay said some people simply don’t allot enough time for a good night’s rest; others aren’t able to sleep well due to medical conditions, like insomnia or sleep apnea.

For those who have persistent sleep troubles, Lindsay recommends paying a visit to a doctor. Some 72% of those who participated in the World Sleep Survey said they had not consulted a physician about their sleep troubles.

Moreover, Lindsey has a few hacks to try at home: Avoid turning on electronics for an hour before bed, keep alcohol consumption to a minimum, and ensure the bedroom is a mecca for sleep– and not a glorified office.


How Are Companies Trying To Help?

Historically, employer wellness programs have focused on fitness and healthy eating. But that’s beginning to change.

Some companies are developing programs to assess and treat employees with sleep apnea, a common disorder that disrupts sleep and often goes undiagnosed. More than 18 million American adults have sleep apnea, according to the National Sleep Foundation.

Other large companies, like Google and Goldman Sachs, have brought in sleep experts to disseminate information about sleep disorders, according to the Washington Post. Johnson & Johnson offers its employees a digital coaching program that is designed to reduce insomnia, and involves relaxation videos. Corporate wellness company Ceridian now offers sleep coaches to teach employees about healthy habits for getting a good night’s rest.

“I think employers are interested in it because when you improve sleep, you improve productivity and potentially a whole host of health issues,” says Jennifer Benz, a San Francisco-based health benefits expert with the firm Benz Communications.

Related: How Much Does Lack Of Sleep Really Affect Your Work?

About the author

Christina Farr is a San Francisco-based journalist specializing in health and technology. Before joining Fast Company, Christina worked as a reporter for VentureBeat, Reuters and KQED.