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What’s sleep got to do with workplace wellness? More than you think!

September 26, 2014

Charles Boyer
Research Associate
Health and Wellness

Employees often don’t get enough sleep. A recent Conference Board survey found that 78 per cent of employees got to work tired at least some days in a week. Why is this important? An individual who has been awake for 17 hours has the same cognitive abilities and performance as one with a blood alcohol content of 0.05.1 Fatigue and the need for recovery have been shown to be risk factors for occupational accidents,2 and fatigue costs workplaces $330 million per year in lost productive time (83.9 per cent of this was lost productivity while the employee was at work).3 Lack of sleep not only affects job performance and risk of injury, it has also been linked to poor health. Research led by Dr. Jean Philippe Chaput has shown that lack of sleep puts adults at greater risk of becoming overweight and obese.4

Photo of a business man sleeping underneath a deskWhat is the difference between sleep quality and sleep quantity?

The length of time you sleep may not be the only significant factor. Sleep quality may also play an important role in managing a person’s health. Sleep quality measures the disturbances of sleep such as difficulty falling and maintaining sleep.5 Dr. Chaput and his colleagues have found that individuals with better sleep quality before a weight loss intervention were more likely to see a greater weight loss at the end of the intervention then those who had poorer sleep quality at the start of the intervention.6 This means that people who fall asleep more easily and have less interruptions in their sleep have greater chances to succeed in weight management programs. Employers should therefore keep in mind that both sleep quality and sleep quantity matter when ensuring a healthy workforce.

People don’t sleep on the job, what can employers do?

Younger workers are more likely to report incidents at work due to fatigue than their older colleagues. In fact, a study of truck drivers showed that, 55 per cent of drivers who were involved in an accident because they had fallen asleep at the wheel were 25 years old or younger.7 This shows that experience does influence how truck drivers manage fatigue. Interviews with experienced truck drivers found that fatigue is not only the result of poor time management,  it is also influenced by work constraints. For truckers, these include traffic conditions, the amount of shifting involved, the ease of the drive, and the management of their emotions.8 Employers can use this experience to train younger employees to better manage their fatigue in the future.

Structured policies can also help ensure proper fatigue management in the workplace. Take for example a fatigue management policy from the Transport Roads and Maritime Services in New South Wales Australia.9 Along with important information regarding definitions, responsibilities and management of fatigue, they have developed the following risk assessment chart to help identify fatigued employees:

Image of a table to determine your risk assessment for fatigue

Fatigue management is a significant problem for workplaces and has a big impact on the health of employees. In certain safety-sensitive positions, lack of sleep could contribute to a very risky workplace. However, non safety-sensitive positions are also at great risk of negative effects from lack of sleep. The majority of employees in these positions spend most of their day sedentary which, coupled with lack of sleep, can be detrimental to their health. Sleep has quite a bit to do with workplace wellness and should be on every employer’s radar.

Upcoming Webinars

Join us for two upcoming Conference Board webinars on fatigue in the workplace:

1    Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, Fatigue. (Accessed August 27, 2014.)

2    G. M H. Swaen, et al., “Fatigue as a risk factor for being injured in an occupational accident: results from the Maastricht Cohort Study,” Occupational and Environmental Medicine 60, no. 1 (2003): 91.

3    Judith A. Ricci, et al., “Fatigue in the U.S. workforce: prevalence and implications for lost productive work time,” Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine 49, no. 1 (2007): 1–10.

4    Jean-Philippe Chaput, et al. “Short sleep duration is associated with reduced leptin levels and increased obesity: results from the Quebec Family Study,” Obesity 15, no. 1 (2007): 257.

5    Daniel J. Buysse, et al. “The Pittsburgh sleep quality index: a new instrument for psychiatric practice and research,” Psychiatry Research 28 (1988): 209–13.

6    Jean-Philippe Chaput and Angelo Tremblay. “Sleeping habits predict the magnitude of fat loss in adults exposed to moderate caloric restriction,” Obesity Facts 5 (2012): 564.

7    Pierre-Sebastien Fournier, Sylvie Montreuil and Jean-Pierre Brun. “Fatigue management by truck drivers in real life situations: some suggestions to improve training,” Work 29 (2007): 215.

8    Pierre-Sebastien Fournier, Sylvie Montreuil and Jean-Pierre Brun. “Fatigue management by truck drivers in real life situations: some suggestions to improve training,” Work 29 (2007): 218–20.

9, Fatigue Management Procedure. November 16, 2012. (Accessed September 15, 2014.)


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