Will Skipping Sleep Cost You? 

by Rick Murray

Most of us first try skipping sleep in order to meet a deadline. “Pulling an all-nighter” is a time-honored test of a teenager’s steely resolve to procrastinate on studying for a test, finishing a research paper or writing a lab report. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. One thing is for certain: A long nap ends up on the docket for the next day.

For adults in the workday world, that’s generally not an option.

Workplace nap rooms may be a boutique benefit at some companies, but the typical American worker is expected to be alert and productive for eight or more hours a day. Add up work hours, the demands of commuting, family, chores, plus a little “me time,” and adequate sleep can fall to the bottom of the must-do list. We’re a fatigued nation — and it’s affecting our safety, productivity and decision-making ability on the job. According to a recent NSC report, 43 percent of Americans say they don’t get enough sleep to handle risks that can jeopardize their safety at work and while driving. The workplace itself can contribute to fatigue in the following ways:

  • Shift work can mean working at night or rotating schedule frequently, making it difficult to keep a consistent sleep schedule.
  • Task type can affect fatigue, such as mentally demanding work, tedious or repetitive tasks, and too much time on one task.
  • Poor indoor air quality and lighting can add to fatigue.

The just-released NSC Fatigue Cost Calculator allows companies to figure out how fatigue affects their workforce based on location, industry, size and shift work. The calculator uses an algorithm that incorporates data from peer-reviewed scientific literature, providing an instant cost estimate that factors in absenteeism, decreased productivity and added healthcare costs.

For example, an office- and administrative-focused organization in a Midwestern state with 325 employees might lose more than $422,000 annually as a result of fatigue. For a larger organization, the costs can climb into the tens of millions of dollars. These dollars are being lost in an environment where sleep — and the benefits that come with it — is too often sacrificed.

Tens of billions of dollars are lost, according to one study, through the role of fatigue in car crashes, decreased productivity, medical costs and workplace injuries.

There are solutions that contribute simultaneously to a company’s bottom line, the well-being of the employees and the safety of the workplace. By optimizing schedules, allowing napping where feasible, educating employees about the importance of sleep and creating a culture that promotes sleep health, a company can see a better-rested workforce. In addition, individuals can take their own steps to become more consistent and more successful in getting the rest they need to function at their best.

Reducing fatigue, simply by getting an extra hour or two of sleep a day, can enrich our personal and professional lives. When we’re alert, mentally engaged and energetic, we’re able to work more safely and productively, and engage with others more meaningfully.

Rick Murray is president and CEO of the Arizona chapter of the National Safety Council.

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