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Digging into the latest research in sleep with Rebecca Brossoit M.S. to understand the impact on safety. Exploring strategies to improve sleep and drive the right outcomes for workplaces.

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Real leaders leave a legacy. They capture the hearts and minds of their teams; their origin story puts the safety and well-being of their people first. Great companies ubiquitously have safe, productive operations. For those companies, safety is an investment, not a cost for the C-Suite. It’s a real topic of daily focus. This is The Safety Guru with your host Eric Michrowski, a globally recognized Ops the Safety Guru public speaker and author. Are you ready to leave a safety legacy? Your legacy success story begins now.

Hi and welcome to The Safety Guru. My name is Eric Michrowski, your host. And today we’re here to talk about incredibly important topic related to safety, which is around sleep. I have with me Rebecca Brossoit, who earned her master’s in industrial organizational psychology from Colorado State University and has a bachelor’s in psychology and a minor in sociology for the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. She’s currently in her final stages in her Ph.D. in psychology and has done a lot of research on employee C’s sleep, health, safety in nature and the exposure in relation to recovery from work stress.

So, I’m really excited to have Rebecca with me. Welcome to our podcast.

Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Excellent. So, your background seems to be really focused on workplace psychology and works. Worker’s sleep. How much sleep do we really need? Is it true that everyone should sleep at least eight hours each night?

Yeah. So, although eight hours is mentioned, a lot is the ideal number. Experts in the sleep field actually recommend that adults should consistently be getting between seven and nine hours of sleep each night. Hmm.

And good to know. So how much people how much sleep do people actually get to?

Unfortunately, a lot of people aren’t getting enough sleep. A study that was conducted by researchers at the CDC. So, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that about a third of Americans are actually sleeping less than seven hours each night.

So sometimes sleep is so sometimes they sleep enough between seven and nine hours, but they don’t feel like I get a good night’s sleep. Why would that be. 

Hmm. OK, so seven or nine hours is the recommendation for the amount of sleep that most adults need. But this recommendation only captures sleep duration and there are other ways to conceptualize sleep beyond just the duration of time spent asleep. So, aspects of sleep quality are also important.

Interesting. So, what is sleep quality?

Sleep quality is what it sounds like. So, it’s how good the quality of your sleep is. Insomnia, symptoms like having trouble falling asleep or difficulty staying asleep throughout the night. Those things reflect sleep quality. Other experiences like waking up, feeling well rested, refreshed or restored are also aspects of sleep quality.

Interesting, and which is more important, the amount of sleep you try to get or the quality of your actual sleep in your opinion.

Good question, but I can’t pick one. They are both important.

I see. So, I have a really busy week and I’m not able to get seven to nine hours of sleep. Can I just catch up on sleep over the weekend? So that’s something I have to do all the time. What’s the risk for me?

OK, so this pattern of sleeping where you don’t get enough sleep throughout the week and then sleep in over the weekend is sometimes referred to as binge sleeping. So, this is a great question, though, and one that researchers are still trying to fully understand. Some studies have found that it can be useful for people to catch up on lost sleep by sleeping and on the weekends and that it may actually be helpful for health-related outcomes. However, many other researchers believe that people who have sleep, debt or an accumulation of poor sleep over time can’t truly make up for that lost sleep.

So, the jury is still out on this. And ultimately, though, catching up on sleep is probably not as beneficial as consistently getting between seven and nine hours each night and having similar bed and wait times each day.

Interesting. So obviously, I live a really busy life. I’m sure a lot of our listeners do the same and have the same challenges. And sometimes it doesn’t seem like sleep should be prioritized over other things. So how important is sleep really in terms of our well-being and also what we’re able to accomplish?

Yeah, so I can relate to sometimes feeling too busy to prioritize sleep. Yeah, definitely. But sleep is really important and should absolutely be prioritized. Insufficient sleep, we know from a lot of research is associated with things like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, reduced immunity and early mortality. So, it is super important. Also, getting enough and getting high quality sleep is related to mental health, wellbeing and the relationships you have with others. It’s also linked to how people perform and act while they’re at work and how they perceive their work.

OK, so you’ve got my attention. Sleep is really important for your health. The last part made sense to when I don’t get sleep or the sufficient amount of sleep, I’m in a really bad mood and can’t get anything done. Probably some of my team members will tell me exactly.

OK, so think about a time when you didn’t sleep well and you are exhausted the next day. Maybe it felt harder to pay attention and perform well at work. Or maybe you were moody when you were interacting with people. Not getting enough or good sleep tends to just make things harder. So, the way I think of it, I care a lot about my work and I care a lot about my life outside of work and believe that prioritizing my sleep will help me be happy and successful in each of these areas of my life.

So, you mentioned that sleep can impact work outcomes. Can you talk more about that? What should organizations company care about when it comes to the worker’s sleep?

Sure. So, there’s a lot of research that has shown that workers who don’t get enough sleep or who get low-quality sleep are at risk for a variety of work-related problems. For example, workers with poor sleep are more likely to get in accidents or be injured while they’re at work. There are even estimates that 13 percent of work injuries can be attributed to sleep-related problems.

Wow. Why is it that sleep influences things like workplace safety?

Good question. This is actually something I explored with my colleagues in a project on construction worker safety that was published a couple of years ago. So, have you ever gone to work and not been able to pay attention to your tasks or other people may be made mistakes or couldn’t remember how to complete a task?

So of course, who hasn’t?

Yeah. So, these experiences are known as workplace cognitive failures. And we explored cognitive failures at work as a link between sleep and workplace safety. And what we found is that one of the reasons construction workers with poor sleep quality reported having more injuries at work and being less compliant with safety protocols is that these workers were also experiencing more cognitive failures. So, lapses in their memory, attention and action while they were at work, that’s really interesting. Are there other reasons why organizations or companies should care about their employee’s sleep?

Yeah, there are a lot more reasons. So poor sleep is linked to worse job performance, being less engaged at work, being less likely to help out your coworkers, and also being more impatient, avoidant or rude towards your coworkers. Insufficient sleep has also been linked to things like unethical or deviant behaviors at work. So, things like cheating or searching the Internet for things that are not related to work, something known as cyber loafing, or even claiming credit for someone else’s work.

And beyond all of these things, workers with poor sleep also tend to report more burnout from their work, lower job satisfaction, and are more likely to think about quitting their job. So, all of these things are really costly to employers. One study estimated that it cost companies over two thousand dollars per employee with insomnia because of lost work time and reduced performance.

Well, that’s a lot of money. What can companies do? But this is something that is beyond what the company should be working or looking at.

Yeah. So, the reality is that one of the main reasons why people experience disrupted sleep is their work. And there’s research on how work hours working overtime shift work schedules and the stress that comes from work can have a negative impact on people’s sleep. However, there is a lot that organizations and companies can do to improve their employee’s sleep.

Like what?

There are a bunch of options. So, in a study that I recently published with my colleagues, we found that nurses and certified nursing assistant with more schedule, control, experience, better sleep, and they were also more satisfied and less likely to think about quitting their job. Similar findings have also been found in another research, too. So, one option would be to provide employees with flexibility and control over their work schedules.

That makes a lot of sense and definitely very consistent with a lot of other research that I’ve seen in terms of giving freedom and flexibility in terms of work scheduling. But what if the work schedule can’t be changed? What other options might exist?

Yeah, so broadly, employer related insurance that provides accessible and affordable health care coverage to employees is one-way employers can help. Likewise, wellness programs are also mutually beneficial for employees and organizations. 

So those are great ideas. What about if an employee came into work and was totally exhausted? What should an employer do with them if the employee is about to start a shift doing safety sensitive work like operating a forklift or machinery? One thing the employer could do would be to simply reassign their job tasks or duties that day and to ensure their safety and the safety of their coworkers. More generally, though, leaders, supervisors and managers can be role models to their employees.

For example, instead of bragging about how little sleep they get, they can talk about how it’s important to. Prioritize sleep, and they can encourage their workers to have healthy sleep behaviors. This idea is known as sleep leadership and it’s been effective in military settings and is likely useful in other contexts, too. And supervisors and managers, they’re in a position where they can help employees modify their schedules and their workloads, which can have a positive influence on their employee sleep.

In addition to this, some companies, particularly those with shift workers, tend to have spaces where workers can go to take short naps during their work break. So, this is another option that could help prevent sleepiness or fatigue throughout the workday.

I love your example in terms of sleep leadership. I think that’s a really good example in terms of your role modeling, what good looks like. So, if you’re if our listener is an employee rather than an employer, what can they do to improve their sleep?

Yeah, so if you’re an employee but not the employer, there are a lot of things you can do. So, as I mentioned earlier, striving for seven to nine hours of sleep each night with consistent bed and wait times is one thing you can do. In addition to this, similar to housekeeping, food, diaries or logging, fitness can increase your awareness of your diet and exercise. Tracking sleep may also be helpful for some people. You can do this with a wearable tracker like a Fitbit or simply a pen and paper and just keep track of when you go to sleep, when you wake up and how long you sleep each night.

That’s a really good idea. A good example. I think there’s even apps that help you with doing that on an iPhone. I think they’ve added some sleep apps on that side. So those are really good ideas. Is there anything else people can do?

Oh, yeah, there are a number of other things people can do to improve their sleep. Something even as simple as just reducing the amount of caffeine you consume later in the day can be helpful. Things like exercising can be really helpful for sleeping better, though. It’s not helpful if it’s done right before bedtime because this can actually make it harder to unwind and fall asleep. Other things like refraining from working in bed can be helpful so your brain can associate your bed with sleeping rather than working.

Another thing that can be helpful is having a relaxing bedtime routine where you do a similar calming activity to unwind before bed each night.

What about alcohol? Does that help you sleep because it’s a depressant?

No, alcohol makes it easier to fall asleep. This is a really common question that people tend to ask a lot. But what alcohol does is it makes it easier to fall asleep, but it actually disrupts important sleep stages like REM or rapid eye movement sleep. So, you should probably skip the nightcap and opt for something else. I like sleepy time.

I see people wearing those blue light glasses, those help with sleep.

OK, so the idea behind the blue light glasses is that electronics emit blue light and this type of light has been linked with problems sleeping. So, it makes sense to think that glasses that block out some of the blue light would help sleep. However, this is a hotly debated topic right now, and there’s disagreement about whether the blue light glasses really help some people think they do something they do, but it’s just a placebo effect and others think they don’t have help at all until we know for sure.

And easier and more affordable way to improve sleep would be to simply refrain from using electronics like your phone, laptop or television close to bedtime. Instead, you could try using fewer stimulating activities that are free from blue light. So, reading a paperback book, meditating, listening to music or a podcast or do other things like that to unwind before bed.

Hmm. And what if your boss is emailing you late at night and you feel like you need to respond?

Good question. Feeling an urge to immediately respond to a work-related email. Describe something we call Tella pressure in the research, literature and research has found links between this idea of Tella pressure and the experience of pressure in your sleep. So, setting expectations about the use of technology outside of work and outside of work hours and preferred response times to things like emails is another way that supervisors and managers can help their employees get better sleep.

That’s a good point. And I’ve heard some leaders also share some guidance around what their expectations are and see more and more people as well using the Dilates method. So, they could be sending the email. But if they want to make sure somebody doesn’t jump on something right away, dilator, perhaps the next morning.

Yeah, that’s a great example.

So where should employees or employees go if they want to learn more about sleep?

There are a lot of options. Primary care physicians are a great resource for people who have concerns about their sleep. But for more general information, the National Sleep Foundation, an American Academy for Sleep Medicine, both have helpful articles about sleep on their websites, another resource that might be helpful for employers as a recent white paper on why poor employee sleep is bad for business. This was. Sponsored by the Society of Industrial Organizational Psychology, also known as SIOP, which is the field that I’m in and can be found on their website, that was super interesting. 

Thank you so much for coming on our podcast. Definitely a lot of important themes that too many people prioritize. I know, especially in these really challenging times that we’re in right now, a lot of people are starting to try to get more done, myself included. And sometimes that puts pressure against the quality of our sleep or as you said as well, the duration of our sleep. So really important topic. And I’ve seen in a lot of organizations where it becomes a subtle theme that starts emerging within the workforce and becomes really dangerous, just like people driving drunk or we’re coming to work drunk is you don’t necessarily have the ability to focus on the work that you have in front of you.

So, thank you so much for coming in to share some of these data points and try to share and popularize a lot more of that information for people, because I think too few organizations. But sleep on their corporate agenda, huh?

Yeah, I agree. Thank you so much for having me.

Thank you for listening to The Safety Guru on C-Suite Radio. Leave a legacy to distinguish yourself from the pack, grow your success, capture the hearts and minds of your team’s Fuel your future. Come back in two weeks for the next episode. Or listen to our sister show with the Ops Guru Eric Michrowski.

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ABOUT THE GUEST

Rebecca Brossoit earned her M.S. in Industrial and Organizational (I/O) Psychology from Colorado State University (CSU) in 2017 and she is currently in the final stages of her PhD in I/O Psychology at CSU. Her research interests include employee sleep, health, and safety, nature exposure in relation to recovery from work stress, the work-family interface, and workplace interventions. Becca has published research related to the use of physiological measures in I/O and OB research, the interplay between work, nonwork, and sleep in a person’s life, the impact of poor sleep on construction workers’ safety, the role of fatigue for on-demand drivers (e.g., Uber drivers) in the gig economy, and the influence of schedule control on healthcare workers’ sleep and job attitudes. She is also involved in a sleep and work-family intervention study with service members and leaders in the National Guard.

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