One Third of American Workers Are Sleep-Deprived, Says CDC

woman asleep at her computer

Nearly a third of American workers get too little sleep, federal health officials said Thursday. By sleeping fewer than six hours a night, these folks put themselves and their co-workers at risk for serious consequences, according to a study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The findings show that 44 percent of night shift workers get too little sleep, compared to 29 percent of those who work the day shift. Workers with insufficient sleep are more likely to suffer on-the-job injuries and make dangerous mistakes. They’re also more likely to develop heart problems, obesity, diabetes, and depression.

“Despite these consequences, many people still don’t find the time for adequate sleep, with many having trouble with insomnia and not seeking proper help,” Shelby Freedman Harris, director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program and the Sleep-Wake Disorders Center at Montefiore Medical Center in New York, told HealthDay. “Our society is a very sleep-deprived one.”

Reasons Not to Skimp on Sleep

Scheduling a good night’s sleep could be one of the smartest health priorities you set. It’s not just daytime drowsiness you risk when shortchanging yourself on your seven to nine hours. (More than 35 percent of adults routinely clock less than seven hours per night, according to the National Sleep Foundation.)

Possible health consequences of getting too little or poor sleep can involve the cardiovascular, endocrine, immune, and nervous systems.In addition to letting life get in the way of good sleep, between 50 and 70 million Americans suffer from a chronic sleep disorder—such as insomnia or sleep apnea—that affects daily functioning and impinges on health. Here’s a look at the research:

1) Less may mean more. Among people who sleep under seven hours a night, the fewer zzzz’s they get, the more obese they tend to be, according to a 2006 Institute of Medicine report. This may relate to the discovery that insufficient sleep appears to tip hunger hormones out of whack. Leptin, which suppresses appetite, is lowered; ghrelin, which stimulates appetite, gets a boost.

2) You’re more apt to make bad food choices. A study published in 2008 in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that people with obstructive sleep apnea or other severely disordered breathing while asleep ate a diet higher in cholesterol, protein, total fat, and total saturated fat. Women were especially affected.

Why Power Naps at Work Are Catching On

Falling asleep on the job may be evolving into office protocol—not grounds for termination. A growing number of companies are recognizing the health benefits of a quick snooze, including increased alertness, enhanced brainpower, and fewer sick days. While naps aren’t necessary for those who get the recommended eight hours of shut-eye at night, they may be key for those who skimp on sleep.

“Most people don’t get enough sleep,” says Nancy Collop, president-elect of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. “And for those people, a nap will clearly help. The most important factor is duration, and it’s well-accepted that short naps are good.”

Some companies are offering designated nap rooms or even setting up tents or lofted beds, but at Workman Publishing in New York, employees usually sleep underneath their desks or behind room-divider screens. “You can close your eyes for 10 or 15 minutes and wake up feeling completely refreshed,” says Susan Bolotin, editor in chief of Workman, which has been nap-friendly since 2007. “We’ve seen very positive effects. I keep a nap mat in my office, and I’m still known to lie down, put my sleep mask on, and see what happens.”

Bolotin has distributed eye masks to her team, and sometimes lends her office floor to those without a private workspace who are in need of a nap. “We have one guy who works here who likes to nap, and you’ll walk by and he’ll be lying down on a mat like a kid in nursery school,” she says. Other companies, including British Airways, Nike, Pizza Hut, and Google, offer reclining chairs and “renewal rooms.”


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