Sleep deprivation can result in impaired judgment, lower productivity and a higher likelihood of accidents, writes Dr Tony Massey. So what are the steps employers can take to ensure their employees are getting sufficient rest each night?
When Continental Connection flight 3407 fell out of the sky during its February 2009 approach to New York state's Buffalo airport, experts initially believed a build up of ice on the wings had been responsible. However, further investigation by America's National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) discovered pilot error had been the primary culprit.
A result of poor judgment, it was partly attributed to pilot fatigue and a lack of sleep. The final NTSB report states that both the captain and first officer "were likely experiencing some degree of fatigue at the time of the accident". Lack of sleep certainly played a role in a crash that killed 50 people and that will potentially cost the airline - and its insurance company - millions of dollars in restitution.
A lack of adequate sleep and fatigue were also at least partly responsible for other high-profile workplace accidents, including the Challenger space shuttle tragedy, the Exxon Valdez oil spill and the Chernobyl nuclear accident.
But sleep deprivation and poor sleep quality, and the resulting fatigue, can have serious consequences in any workplace by undermining employee productivity and workplace efficiency - and can even contribute to disasters.
Although research into sleep deprivation and its consequences is still a developing science, line managers, HR and OH practitioners need to understand how it can contribute to poor health, inefficiency and accidents in the workplace in order to prevent them.
Sleeplessness and work: how serious of a problem is it?
The results of research released in April 2012 by Vielife, a provider of health and wellness solutions, into sleep deprivation and its consequences are eye opening. The study of more than 40,000 European-domiciled workers indicates that 50% of those surveyed sleep seven hours or fewer a night. Some 5% sleep fewer than five hours, while almost 27% - or around one in four respondents - reported that they were either unrefreshed or exhausted even after sleeping.