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Sleep deprivation: how it affects workers' health and strategies to help

In today's society of long work hours, high pressure jobs and busy family lives, many workers view sleep as a luxury and it is one of the first things to fall by the wayside when they are pressed for time.

By overlooking the short and long-term health consequences of insufficient sleep, workers will find their productivity levels steadily decrease and this in turn affects both their work and home life.

In the short term, a lack of adequate sleep can affect judgment, mood, ability to learn and retain information and may increase the risk of serious accidents and injury.

In the long term the lack of sleep has been linked to many health problems and is considered an important risk factor for diseases such as obesity, diabetes and even cardiovascular disease.

Early work by scientists suggests that sleep deprivation may even decrease the ability to resist infection such as the common cold (one of the most frequent reasons for staff absenteeism, increased health care costs and once again, decreased productivity).

Most experts have concluded that getting enough high-quality sleep may be as important to health and well-being as nutrition and exercise.

Stress, shift work and family related sleep disturbances are just some of many factors that can interfere with sufficient sleep, but there are ways to mitigate their effects.

Here are some scientifically proven ways to help fall asleep and more importantly stay asleep:

  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, nicotine and other chemicals that interfere with sleep
  • A quiet, dark and cool environment can help promote sleep. Keep computers, TVs and work materials out of the room.
  • Establish a pre-sleep routine: Light reading, a warm bath, herbal tea, meditating or other relaxation exercises.
  • Write down problems or ideas on a pad and put them aside to take them out of the mind and stop "busy brain".
  • Go to sleep when truly tired and if not asleep after 20 minutes, go to another room and do something relaxing, until tired enough to sleep.

 

 

  • Don't watch the clock tick by. Turn the clock's face away, especially if illuminated.
  • Natural light keeps the internal clock on a healthy cycle. Let in the light first thing in the morning and get out of the office for a sun break during the day.
  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day to set the body's "internal clock" so it will expect sleep at a certain time night after night.
  • Nap early or not at all. Keep it short and before 5 p.m.
  • Lighten up on evening meals. Finish dinner several hours before bedtime and avoid foods that cause indigestion.
  • Drink enough fluid at night to keep thirst at bay but not so much that sleep will be disturbed by a trip to the bathroom.
  • Exercise early. Exercise helps promote restful sleep if it is done several hours before bed.

 

If sleep difficulties still persist it may be wise to seek professional advice and consult a health practitioner.

Poor sleep will result in poor performance and poor health. Sleep experts say there is ample evidence that shows that when workers get the sleep they need, they will not only feel better, but will also increase their odds of living healthier, stress free, more productive working lives.

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Referenced articles can be found on the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School website http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/

Thrive Re Consulting is proud to be a signatory organisation to the Australian Consensus Statement of the Australasian Faculty of  Occupational and Environmental Medicine on the Health Benefits of Work.

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Referenced articles can be found on the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School website

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