Everyone knows how important it is to get eight hours of sleep each night so that they can be at their best the following day. What you might not know, however, is that if your employees don’t get enough rest, they will experience decreased motor skills, impaired thought processes, and memory loss, all of which can make them susceptible to injury.
In addition to being a safety hazard, sleep deprivation can also affect your employees’ health. Research shows that night shift workers typically get an hour less of sleep per day than day workers. Taking away this hour of sleep interferes with their circadian rhythms. These are the events that occur within a 24-hour period, like sleeping/waking, which are regulated by an internal clock. If you try to readjust that clock, such as when you switch sleep times, it can cause difficulties, because circadian clocks affect almost every level of bodily functions. As a result, employees can develop peptic ulcers, hypertension and cardiovascular diseases.
Not getting enough sleep also causes an employee to consume more calories. That’s because sleeping plays an important role in regulating the body’s leptin levels, a hormone that tells the brain when the body needs more food. Low levels of leptin cause the individual to eat more which can lead to obesity. Obesity can lead to diabetes, hypertension or other health problems, as well as decreased productivity and increased absenteeism.
As an employer, you need to find ways to combat the effect sleep deprivation can have on your workers’ health and safety. Here are some steps you can take:
- Break up the monotony of repetitive tasks – A sleep deprived employee’s attention span wanes after one to two hours of doing the same task over and over. To reduce mistakes, schedule frequent, short break periods in which the employee stops work and stands up, or moves around.
- Put high-intensity lighting in the work area – The short-term effect is that the lighting keeps workers alert. Over time, exposure from this type of light retrains the body’s circadian rhythms to delay the onset of sleep. When the worker does go to sleep, because the body has been retrained that this is the new sleep period, the worker actually experiences a more restorative sleep.
- Permit napping – When employees first begin working a night shift, it is important that they have an opportunity to nap until they become acclimated to their new schedule. Allowing an employee to nap for 30 minutes can significantly improve their ability to function.
- Use the buddy system – Create employee teams of two who are responsible for monitoring each other for signs of sleep deprivation. If an employee notices their teammate is looking tired or starting to make mistakes, they can insist that their co-worker stop what they are doing, and take a break.