Sleepless Nights: The Billion-Dollar Expense Businesses Ignore

Business Entrepreneurs Resources

By: Nicklas Prieto

Few things are as refreshing as a good night’s sleep. Unfortunately, the majority of us don’t get to experience one on a consistent basis. In fact, studies have found that about 66% of Americans do not get adequate sleep or feel well-rested on a daily basis. The average U.S. adult only gets about 6 hours of sleep, 2 below the common recommendation. And an estimated 50 to 70 million Americans have a sleeping disorder, while 54% of us suffer from symptoms of insomnia more than once a week.

Many factors contribute to our collective insomnia, but Business Insider found the top 3 reasons for lack of sleep to be aches and pains (69% say they keep them up at night), family stressors (60%) and work stressors (45%). But whatever the reason, Americans aren’t welcoming the lack of sleep. When asked what they’d sacrifice for consistently better sleep, 70% of Americans said they would give up vacation days, and 32% would give up a bonus or a raise.

This lack of sleep, however, benefits a few industries. Many Americans combat sleepiness with caffeine, and the coffee industry rakes in an average of $20 a week, or $1,040 a year, from every single American adult to support that addiction. The alcohol industry is helped by the 11% of U.S. adults who use the depressant as a sleep aid, and pharmaceutical companies enjoy a boost from the 16% of us who use either prescription or over-the-counter sleep aids. But beyond these exceptions, companies across the world are suffering losses because of a lack of sleep, which a few studies recently shed light on.

Effects of Drowsy Driving and Working
Studies have shown that a lack of sleep brings with it a number of cognitive disadvantages, many of which contribute to poor performance both on the job and in other settings. WebMD reports that poor sleep leads to slower thought processing and greater difficulty in forming logical solutions to complex problems. They also found that drowsy test subjects had difficulty learning new skills and lacked both imagination and originality. Many suffered from slurred speech and stuttering, and researchers reported that the subjects’ vocabulary was reduced to recycled clichés. Not surprisingly, subjects reported a lack of focus, and perhaps most surprisingly, researchers found that a severe lack of sleep can cause blurred vision and hallucinations.

These symptoms can wreak havoc on our everyday lives. SlugBooks found that 23.2% of problem sleepers report poor concentration, while 18.2% reported suffering from forgetfulness. More that 10% report neglecting their financial affairs, and 11% report having difficulty when driving.

While the study wasn’t directly tied to work, when you consider that 90% of Americans drive to work each day and thousands more drive vehicles for a living, the stats concerning drowsy driving are the most alarming. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that there are an average of about 100,000 drowsy-driving-related crashes a year, over 1,500 of which result in fatalities.

Those who sleep between 6 and 7 hours per night (which, according to stats above, is most of us) are two-times more likely to get into a wreck than those who average 8 hours of sleep. Even scarier, 37% of us admit to nodding off at the wheel at least once in our lives, and Australian researchers found that going 24 hours without sleep is equivalent to having a .10 blood alcohol concentration (good enough for a DUI in every U.S. state) when comparing its effects on driving.

These side effects can also take a big toll on our work performance. Because of a sleepless night, 50% of Americans report they have performed poorly at the office. 38% say they have outright missed important meetings because of poor sleep, and since we’ve all probably done it, it’s hard to believe that only 31% say they have been late to work by more than 15 minutes as a result of their sleeping habits. And it’s something we’ve all probably wished for, but only about 30% of us have fallen asleep at work (or at least admit to it). In total, researchers from the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine estimate that businesses lose about $136 billion a year as a result of sleepy workers, more than the GDPs of Rhode Island, Maine and New Hampshire combined. Nobody likes being tired at work, but there’s one main reason we should all dislike our sleepless nights: it’s killing us.

How Sleepiness Is Killing You
According to HealthCentral, just one week of insufficient sleep can alter the genes that control our responses to stress, immunity, inflammation and overall health. Studies have also shown that people with insomnia are 10-times more likely to develop depression and 17-times more likely to have significant anxiety than their counterparts.

Sleeping an average of only 5 to 6 hours per night increases our risk of hypertension and high blood pressure. It also increases our stress levels, which contributes to a 45% higher risk of heart disease and doubles the chances of contracting diabetes. And for women in particular, sleeplessness increases the chances of breast cancer. All in all, reports, in a study appropriately titled “Sleep or Die,” that poor sleep habits can lead to as much as a 12% higher risk of death.

The Power of Naps
The simplest solution to combat sleepiness’ effects is obvious: get more sleep. But our busy schedules often prevent us from getting the sleep we desperately need. The second simplest solution? Naps.

Studies show that even the shortest of naps can alleviate the effects of a poor night’s rest. found that 2- to 5-minute naps can effectively shed the symptoms of sleepiness. Mini naps of 5 to 20 minutes can increase alertness, stamina, motor learning and performance. And so-called “power naps” of about 20 minutes have the benefits of the shorter ones, but they also improve muscle memory as well as long-term cognitive memory.

As a whole, napping decreases daytime sleepiness by 10%. It elevates our mood and alertness, and it improves our quality of interactions. It enhances our mental abilities as well as our physical health, and it increases our stamina by over 10%. Napping also helps with our nightly sleep habits, increasing our average sleep times by 20 minutes, decreasing the time it takes for us to fall asleep and increasing our feeling of refreshment after waking up.

Napping at work may seem counterproductive, but many of the most successful businesses have implemented naps as part of their workdays. Nike has “quiet rooms” that are used for both napping and meditation. Google’s Mountain View campus features sleeping pods that are scattered throughout. And Continental and British Airways allow pilots to nap during long international flights. According the National Sleep Foundation, about 34% of U.S. employers allow napping at work, and 16% have designated napping areas.

While many industries may be unable to implement a napping policy, the stats above highlight the benefits it can bring to any organization. While you don’t have to invest in a Google sleeping pod, it’s best to accommodate employees who may benefit from a quick nap. Obviously, abusing a napping privilege is something to be discouraged, but being open to the occasional resting break may just bring with it a boost in revenue, employee satisfaction and productivity; most importantly, you’ll enjoy a much healthier workforce, which is always a good thing.


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