According to a recent survey from Accountemps, about three quarters (74 percent) of American workers claim to work while they’re tired. More than three in 10 (31 percent) say they do so very often.
Not coincidentally, 52 percent have trouble focusing, 47 percent procrastinate, 38 percent say they’re grumpy, and 29 percent make more mistakes because they’re tired. And the consequences of lack of sleep are costly.
One survey respondent said an accident that was blamed on fatigue caused every employee to be paid twice. Another said weariness caused the deletion of a project that took 1,000 hours to create. All told, a study from Harvard Medical School found that sleep-deprived American workers cost their employers $63 billion in lost productivity each year.
So who’s to blame for the fact that most American workers don’t get enough shut eye?
Some say employers should bear responsibility. They should allow flexible work schedules and promote a culture that allows employees to recharge their batteries. For example, it does no good to close the offices at 5 pm if you’re just going to email your employees until midnight.
I agree with this to an extent. Forward-thinking employers are embracing workplace wellness programs that address the physical, nutritional and psychological components of wellness, and a good night’s sleep is an important part of wellness. Nap rooms are even becoming trendy, but that seems more like a workplace perk than a real solution to a real problem.
Of course, we can’t rely on our bosses to tuck us in at night and read us a bedtime story. We have to educate ourselves about how our body works and take responsibility for our own actions and decisions on a daily basis. We can’t wear a 20-hour workday like a badge of honor and then wonder why we can’t think clearly.
Hormonally, the human body works in rhythms and cycles. In clinical practice, I see a lot of dysfunctional rhythms and cycles in the endocrine system – how the thyroid gland regulates cell metabolism, how the liver makes cholesterol, and other hormonal functions.
Sleep is directly related to hormonal imbalance, our immune system and how the body heals itself. The body needs to rest, rejuvenate and repair. This requires deep, REM sleep. This is when the brain and other systems of the body become more active, while our voluntary muscles become paralyzed and essentially turn off.
It is during the REM stage of sleep that the body heals itself. Our metabolic rate changes. Energy is delivered to the body and brain. Hormones that affect our appetite are regulated, which is why sleep deprivation can make you feel like you need to eat more to get through the day.
This is why sleep is such an important component of hormonal dysregulation. When we try to reregulate hormones and the immune and digestives systems, we often find that a lack of sleep is one of many things that’s ailing the patient. For example, if someone has sleep apnea or is taking sleep medication, this will obviously affect how the person feels while awake. It also has an impact on the endocrine and hormonal system.
If you want to be more productive at work, the solution is not to put in more hours. In many cases, a good night’s sleep will be a big help. While many people consider sleep to be unproductive, it’s actually the opposite – as long as we spend about a quarter of our dozing time each night in REM sleep.