I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead, but More of the Former May Delay the Latter

Office worker using computer and yawning at desk.

There are nights when I’m in bed and catch myself scrolling through my phone aimlessly for 20 minutes... 30 minutes... an hour, watching funny videos or getting drawn in by some street magician.  Next thing I know, I’m looking at the clock and realize I need to be up in 6 hours! Current research suggests that adults should get at least 7 hours of sleep per night for optimal health and wellness (1), and don’t think you can “catch-up” over the weekend as this Harvard Medical School article discusses.

Research indicates a correlation between sleep deprivation and the following: (2)

  • Diabetes
  • Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)
  • Coronary Heart Disease
  • Obesity
  • Mortality

The above list is of concern for anybody, but fatigue on the jobsite can have much larger consequences for employee health and safety.  The National Sleep Foundation reports that workers who are sleep deprived increase their chance of a workplace accident by 70% (3), and this study suggests that moderate sleep deprivation is equivalent to a BAC (Blood Alcohol Content) of 0.05 which results in reduced accuracy and slower reaction times (4). These effects can have tragic consequences for any worker, but those in transportation, healthcare, manufacturing, construction, and first responders are particularly at risk. In fact, it is such a hazard in transportation that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that drowsy driving killed almost 800 people in 2017 and that, "In a 24/7 society, with an emphasis on work, longer commutes, and exponential advancement of technology, many people do not get the sleep they need."

A combination of health and fatigue-related factors is estimated to cost $136 billion in lost productive work time! (5) According to the National Safety Council, workers who sleep fewer than six hours per night cost employers six days per year in lost productivity.

Luckily, there are some basic strategies that can be implemented to improve sleep habits. (6)

  • Avoid caffeine intake too close to bedtime.  Caffeine is considered a stimulant so it will increase central nervous system activity making it more difficult to fall asleep.
  • Avoid excessive alcohol consumption.  Alcohol will make a person feel tired, but it is also a diuretic which can result in frequent trips to the bathroom in the middle of the night.
  • Go to bed and get up at the same time every day...including weekends!  This allows the body to get into a sleep-wake cycle that can improve the ability to fall asleep, and more importantly, stay asleep.
  • Keep the bedroom dark and cool with limited distractions like electronics.
  • Exercise regularly.  Some people have a hard time relaxing after intense exercise so it may be best to exercise a couple hours before bedtime.

Need more ideas? Check out the Sleep Foundation's Healthy Sleep Tips.  Remember, Rome was not built in a day.  Pick one or two recommendations and attempt to incorporate those into a routine first.  Once they become habit, pick one or two more.  Sleep is a critical component to overall health and well-being, but also plays a vital role in reducing workplace injuries.  So, put down the phone...and go to bed!


  1. Watson NF, Badr MS, Belenky G, et al.; Consensus Conference Panel. Joint consensus statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society on the recommended amount of sleep for a healthy adult: methodology and discussion. Sleep. 2015; 38:1161–1183.
  2. Itani O, Jike M, Watanabe N, Kaneita Y. Short sleep duration and health outcomes: a systematic review, meta-analysis, and meta-regression. Sleep Med. 2017; 32:246-256. 
  3. The Relationship Between Sleep and Industrial Accidents.  (2020, July 28).  Retrieved from https://www.sleepfoundation.org/excessive-sleepiness/safety/relationship-between-sleep-and-industrial-accidents
  4. Williamson, A M and Feyer Ann-Marie.  “Moderate sleep deprivation produces impairments in cognitive and motor performance equivalent to legally prescribed levels of alcohol intoxication.” Occup Environ Med. 2000; 57:649–655
  5. Ricci JA, Chee E, Lorandeau AL, Berger J [2007]. Fatigue in the U.S. workforce: Prevalence and implications for lost productive work time. Occup Environ Med 49(1): 1-10.
  6. Healthy Sleep Tips.  (2020, July 30).  Retrieved from https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/healthy-sleep-tips