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The big sleep

Hitting the wall at work
iconBefore you nod off, let us offer you a few easy tips for getting better sleep. Just click here and count these sheep.

Hitting the wall

In this story:

You'll never snore alone

Why we're weary

Wiped out

If you can wake up Wednesday

RELATED STORIES, SITES Downward pointing arrow

This is the first part of a two-day look at sleep deprivation and work. Today, the problem. Wednesday, the issue of napping at work. Don't nod off, now, OK?

(CNN) -- "We're a sleep-deprived society," says Mark Rosekind, president and chief scientist at Alertness Solutions in Cupertino, California. Rosekind's outfit advises companies on combating employee fatigue.

And based on what his operation knows and sees, maybe it's time American employers adopted a new motto: Bring me your tired, your befuddled masses ... yearning to curl up and go to sleep.

graphic Have you ever fallen asleep at work?

No! Wide awake! Wouldn't dream (hm) of it!
Well, kind of, maybe, but not really, more like sort of losing focus for a few moments, and no heavy equipment was lost, everyone was released from the hospital after being treated for only minor injuries.
View Results

The independent, nonprofit National Sleep Foundation in Washington says drowsy workers are costing United States employers an estimated $18 billion annually in lost productivity. If you add in errors, damage and health consequences caused by sleepiness, the costs are even higher.

But worker weariness isn't on the radar of most U.S. employers.

"There's a lot of fatigue," says Karen Accipiter, spokeswoman for the Society of Human Resource Management. "It's not something that's generally addressed by employers. Instead of hearing about fatigue and a sense of just being tired day to day, you hear more about work-life balance and having flexibility and time off."


You'll never snore alone

Author Stanley Coren in "Sleep Thieves: An Eye-Opening Exploration Into the Science & Mysteries of Sleep" (1996, Free Press/Simon & Schuster) reiterates the frequently cited list of high-profile industrial accidents attributed in part to worker fatigue: the Challenger, Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and the Exxon Valdez.

"It's unfortunate that in our 24-7 society, sleep is viewed as expendable and something you can catch up on anytime," says Richard L. Gelula, executive director of the Sleep Foundation. The trouble is, he says, that many of us don't catch up on lost sleep.

Can't remember the last time you had a good night of sleep? Starting to use your bed as a handy platform for planters and home-office supplies? Not sure that place was ever a bedroom, anyway, not even when you first moved in? You're just the one we want. Check out our handy interactive tips for better sleeping. The sound of your mouse clicking will help you stay awake.

So how tired are we? In March, the Sleep Foundation published a survey of 1,154 adults on sleep, or lack of it. The results suggest a picture far gloomier than the usual sunny portrayal of the American economic machine cruising along on autopilot, with most of us productively employed.

•  More than one-half of workers surveyed -- 51 percent -- said sleepiness on the job interferes with the amount of work they get done.

•  More than two-thirds of respondents -- 68 percent -- said sleepiness interferes with their concentration. Sixty-six percent said lack of sleep makes handling stress on the job more difficult.

•  Overall, workers estimate the quality and quantity of their work declines by about 30 percent where they're sleepy.

•  More than one-quarter of those questioned -- 27 percent -- said they're sleepy at work two or more days per week. Women said they were drowsy more than men did -- 31 percent vs. 22 percent. Young people, 18 to 29, cited being the sleepiest on the job, with 40 percent saying this was the case at least twice a week.

•  More than two-thirds of shift workers -- 68 percent -- reported problems sleeping. "Shift workers" in this context are classified as the 20 percent of us who toil during periods other than normal daytime business hours.

•  Of those surveyed, nearly one worker in seven -- 14 percent -- said he or she was occasionally or frequently late to work because of sleepiness. For young workers in that 18-to-29 age range, the figure was 22 percent.

"There's a lot of fatigue. It's not something that's generally addressed by employers. Instead of hearing about fatigue and a sense of just being tired day to day, you hear more about work-life balance and having flexibility and time off."
— Karen Accipiter,Society of Human Resource Management

•  Almost one in five workers -- 19 percent -- said she or he occasionally or frequently made mistakes at work because of sleepiness. Well above the average in this category were sales workers, 35 percent; retail workers, 33 percent; and financial and insurance and real-estate professionals, 29 percent.

•  Responding workers said that being sleepy on the job adversely affected their performance in several ways. Concentrating was harder, according to 68 percent; handling stress was more difficult for 65 percent; solving problems and decision making was harder for 58 percent, while listening to co-workers was more of a chore for 57 percent.

•  Some 7 percent said they've changed jobs in order to get more sleep.


Why we're weary

Sleep clinics have sprung up all over the United States in response to people's slumber woes. There are a number of reasons why we're a nation nodding off, including several types of sleep disorders.

•  Insomnia. Symptoms are waking up frequently during the night, waking up too early and having trouble falling asleep again, difficulty in falling asleep and waking up and not feeling rested.

graphic "Sleep Thieves" author Stanley Coren calls the invention of the light bulb a curse. And he has a way for you to tell if you're predisposed to being a morning or night person. Stay with us.

•  Sleep apnea. This is characterized by frequent, brief pauses in breathing during sleep, typically accompanied by snoring, and sometimes by choking sensations. These interruptions of deep sleep often leave a person feeling sleepy the next day.

•  Restless legs syndrome. Symptoms are a creepy, crawling, tingling or painful sensation in the legs and an urge to stretch, bend or rub them. This occurs during inactive periods -- while seated or lying in bed, trying to fall asleep. A related condition, "periodic limb movement," is marked by jerking or twitching movements either while awake or asleep. The movements can be severe enough to wake you from sleep.

•  Narcolepsy. A genetic disorder of the central nervous system, the most common symptom of which is a pervasive and recurrent need to sleep when you want to be awake. Narcoleptics may fall asleep during a meal or while driving a car.


Wiped out

If you think you may be suffering from a sleep disorder, see a doctor, Rosekind advises. But for most people who are tired at work, the reason is simply one of being too busy to sleep enough hours, he says.

Rosekind says it's estimated that Americans are sleeping at least 20 percent less than they did a century ago.

Mark Rosekind, Alertness Solutions  

"Thomas Edison invented the light bulb because he thought sleep was a waste of time," Rosekind says. "But he was a 10-hour sleeper -- six hours a night and two, two-hour naps during the day."

Edison didn't have television or the Internet to distract him, either. Forty-three percent of those responding to the sleep foundation survey said these media kept them up too late.

Nor did Edison (1847-1931) deal with the pace of life people face today. In a recent nationwide survey of more than 1,300 American workers, 52 percent said they've had to work more than 12 hours in a day to complete their jobs. And 50 percent said they often skip lunch in order to get their work done.

And a national study conducted last year concluded that we're spending more time getting to and from work. The national average of time spent in traffic congestion increased 30 percent over five years, to 34 hours annually, the Texas Transportation Institute reported.

No wonder, then, that one-third of us gets six-and-a-half hours or less of sleep nightly, the sleep foundation survey found. That's 90 minutes less than most of us need, Rosekind says. Lose an hour-and-a-half every night and you've got a cumulative sleep debt of seven-and-a-half hours by the weekend. By then, you're wiped out, trying to catch up on lost Zs and repeating the cycle the following week.

"It's as if you stayed up one full night," Rosekind says.


If you can wake up Wednesday

There's a pretty simple way for sleepy employees to recharge their batteries on the job, Rosekind and other sleep experts say: Naps. But as we'll see in Wednesday's story, American employers aren't exactly clamoring to implement this low-tech solution.

Get a good night's sleep and meet us back here.



Study shows sleep helps improve memory
November 22, 2000
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Lack of deep sleep could contribute to weight gain in men
October 4, 2000
Surgical treatment can help sleep apnea
September 21, 2000
Sleep deprivation as bad as alcohol impairment, study suggests
September 20, 2000
Are sleep-deprived engineers hurting the Web?
June 12, 2000

Alertness Solutions
National Sleep Foundation
Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation
Sleep Research Society
Society for Human Resource Management
Stanford University Center for Human Sleep Research

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