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Importance of Sleep in Terms of Workplace Safety

"Sleep is the interest we have to pay on the capital which is called in at death; and the higher the rate of interest and the more regularly it is paid, the further the date of redemption is postponed." - Arthur Schopenhauer

I've never considered the importance of getting an adequate amount of rest until I began suffering from insomnia over a year ago. I can honestly say that one of the hardest periods of my life was the month and a half of sleeping only an average of 2 to 3 hours a night while continuing to work and taking care of a 2 year old daughter. Until I received a sleeping pill prescription from a doctor I was at my wit's end (as was my wife).

Many famous people throughout history have exalted and some even bragged about their lack of sleep. It appears to be something endemic to Western culture that a lessened amount of sleep equates to being a hard working individual. Margaret Thatcher and Frank Sinatra both only slept around 4 hours a night. Napoleon once famously quipped that men should only need 6 hours of sleep. Tim Cook, arguably one of the most disciplined CEOs of our time, begin firing off emails to his underlings and associates as early as 3:45 AM. Then there is President Donald Trump, love him or hate him, he believes 4 hours of sleep a night puts him ahead of any competition who sleeps more.

Unfortunately, a lack of sleep is often associated with not just health related issues (e.g., high blood pressure, heart disease, as well as dementia in later life, which both Margaret Thatcher and Frank Sinatra suffered from in old age), but also a decrease in mental acuity, and an increase in the likelihood of getting injured both in and out of the workplace. Many studies have shown that sleep deprivation is inexorably linked to a higher risk for injuries (as examples, chronically sleep deprived medical trainees are more likely to suffer sharps related injuries, and sleep deprived construction workers are more likely to suffer injuries both at work and at home).

Almost one in ten Americans reportedly suffer from chronic insomnia (the actual number is likely higher). There are many forms of insomnia treatments; but I will emphasize that using sleep inducing medication is simply treating the symptom and not the disease itself and should only be used in the short term. For those suffering from insomnia, proper sleep hygiene (e.g., bed only used for sleep and sex, ensuring getting up at the same time everyday, no use of screens at least an hour before bed, etc.) combined with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), yoga, meditation, and other relaxation techniques should all be explored concurrently to alleviate insomnia. During the day, I would recommend taking 15 to 45 minute power naps to temporarily improve concentration and productivity while at work.

Many workplaces have some form of an employee wellness program. It would be prudent for such programs to emphasize not just physical wellness, but balanced nutrition, and last but not least, encouraging their workers to get an adequate amount of sleep of 7 to 9 hours a night.


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