When you woke up for work this morning, did you feel rested, refreshed, and that you’ve had enough sleep? According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, one-third of Canadian adults live with sleep problems, many having trouble going to sleep or staying asleep.

There’s a good chance that you or someone close to you is part of the sleepy sub-population. How does that affect performance at work? What can we do as employers/ workers to improve Canadians’ sleep? Here are some insights we’ve gathered for you.

How does sleep affect work?

Sleep is essential for supporting all kinds of brain and bodily functions. Sleeping is when memory consolidation, cell repair, hormone production, and many other important processes happen. Sleep problems can cause fatigue, weariness and a slowing of all these important restorative processes. This also is detrimental to our productivity and work performance.

Staying awake for 21 hours straight impacts us as badly as a 0.1% blood alcohol level. That exceeds the threshold for impaired driving in Canada.

Imagine showing up to work like an impaired driver. Fatigue affects our judgement, attention, visual perception, communication skills, ability to handle stress and make decisions, and the list goes on. 

A Canadian-based research study also showed that sleep problems are associated with increased risks of workplace accidents and injuries. Not having enough sleep or having poor sleep not only makes work more difficult, but also more dangerous, particularly for Canadians in trades, transportation and processing and manufacturing jobs. 

Economic Impact of Sleep Problems

How does the negative impact of sleep problems translate economically? According to a 2016 study, lack of sleep among Canada’s working population costs the economy up to $21.4 billion (U.S.) a year — which was 1.35% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2016. Canada also loses 80,000 working days a year due to sleep deprivation. Sleep loss is not just an individual health problem, but can also harm the productivity of organizations and the country’s economy. 

How Does Work Affect Sleep?

While sleep problems may affect your work, the reverse can also be true. The more work you have to get done, the more likely you have to sacrifice your sleep time or quality. A recent meta-analysis examining 100+ research studies on sleep revealed that higher workload is associated with lower quality and quantity of sleep. 

Chronic stress due to work can also lead to sleep problems. 36.3% of adults who get insufficient sleep report having chronic stress compared to 23.2% of adults who get adequate sleep.

Some jobs are also more likely to affect sleep than others. Shift work disorder refers to the condition where people working nights or rotating shifts have trouble sleeping/ staying awake. This is because shift work disturbs the circadian rhythm, our body’s internal clock. 

  • Use blackout drapes or wear a sleep eye mask. Wear earplugs to block sounds. Keep your bedroom temperature cool.
  • Commit to a regular sleep schedule.
  • Limit alcohol or caffeine in the hours leading up to bedtime
  • Get regular exercise however limit strenuous exercise to daytime hours.
  • If you work shifts see a doctor to ask for advice on natural health product/ supplements as well as light treatment (phototherapy).
  • If you’re an employer limit work hours: Set rules to encourage employees to not work outside of their work hours
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