May 2022

Sleep and its impact on safety and productivity

4 min read

The global sleeping aid market is estimated to be worth approximately $90 billion and growing at a rate that shows no signs of slowing down.

According to the US CDC, more than 35% of Americans consistently sleep less than 7 hours per night.

Claiming that healthy sleep habits are a key component of any human being’s overall health, is not a shocking statement. Recommendations regarding how people should try to improve their sleep habits are persistent through all types of media and products and services are constantly being developed to aid people in how and how much they sleep. The global sleeping aid market is estimated to be worth approximately $90 billion and growing at a rate that shows no signs of slowing down. The impact of sleep deprivation has been thoroughly studied and is persistently analysed in specific settings where one can more frequently find it. Certain work environments are notoriously harsh on sleeping habits, with some jobs frequently pushing for employees to fall behind the recommended 7 to 9 hours of recommended daily sleep. Whether the intention is to maximise productivity through longer work hours or simply because hiring more employees is not an option, pushing people out of the suggested sleep time window is counterproductive, in some cases, in an extreme fashion.

Neuroscience research has expanded on the importance and prevalence of sleep deprivation, with larger institutions now looking into how a large fraction of people are not giving sleep the importance it deserves. According to the US CDC, more than 35% of Americans consistently sleep less than 7 hours per night (Link). For certain jobs, sleep deprivation and circadian rhythm, the body’s internal process that regulates the sleep–wake cycle, disruption can be not only extremely common, but also especially detrimental and dangerous. Regulatory frameworks exist to protect and safeguard these professionals, like nurses, truck drivers, and medical residents’, sleep health, and research frequently uses them as study populations for observational and even interventional studies.

A 2017 publication from the Journal of Clinical & Diagnostic Research dove into how a very common trend for nurses, sleep deprivation, impacted their memory, alertness, and overall cognitive performance, specifically during night shifts. Out of the 100 nurses that participated in the study, 69 tested for sleep-deprived values in the Epworth Sleepiness Scale. These, and other metrics used throughout the study, could be complemented through wearable devices and more sophisticated data collection devices, but trends were identified in this sample population. The same research group concluded that nurses working during night shifts tested lower, on average, for vigilance, reaction time, numerical cognition, and memory (Link). Also, night shift nurses made more mathematical errors than their day shift counterparts, by 32%. Working long shifts is a common practice, not only for nurses, but all health care professionals, but hard, quantitative data like these results derived from actual research shed some light on how maybe some common practices should be questioned.

Recent advances in wearable technologies and digital health innovations are promising in their potential to monitor and perhaps improve workers’ sleep quality and quantity. These modern products and services are quickly becoming an essential part of how we monitor and manage health and wellness, and with fair reason, given the amount of actionable data that can be extracted from them. A 2020 study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine monitored and evaluated the potential benefit of using a wearable device to track and measure their sleeping patterns. This device (WHOOP Strap) is coupled with an app that provides feedback and recommendations derived from the gathered data. Participants reported a statistically significant improvement in their perceived sleep quality throughout the study’s duration while wearing the device (Link). While the team behind the publication did acknowledge the potential impact of a placebo effect, the article also emphasized the validity of the data collected by the WHOOP Strap by comparing it to what’s considered the gold standard for sleep monitoring, polysomnography. The study did not focus on people with diagnosed sleep disorders, so there’s no evidence to point towards this type of wearables being as recommended as sleep deprivation treatments any time soon, but there’s plenty of potential for these products in other environments.

Sleep deprivation and fatigue, as previously mentioned, are key factors in employee productivity in the workplace and, in some instances, also play a key role in safety and wellbeing. Regulation might not accept companies monitoring their employees’ sleep quality and fatigue levels, for the “out-of-office” nature of these metrics, but with proper communication and implementations, these new products and services could even benefit the employer-employee relationship. For instance, employees that decide to wear a device like the WHOOP Strap could start conversations with their employers, by showing how, statistically speaking, they are predisposed to underperform due to their fatigue or sleep deprivation status. With how much the workplace and the company-employee relationships have changed, fatigue, sleep deprivation, and overall well-being could be now considered key indicators of how the workforce is behaving, given the direct and strong relationship these metrics have on productivity.

This article was written by Adrian Garcia, Commercial Director at Novogen Mexico.

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