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Sleep Deprivation’s Impact on Safety with Ahna De Vena

Sleep Deprivation's Impact on Safety



Having trouble sleeping or not getting enough sleep? Sleep deprivation and poor sleep quality can affect judgment and mental health, potentially increase the risk of accidents or injuries, and have a negative impact on safety and job performance. In this episode, Ahna shares the importance of quality sleep to improve workplace safety and energize your team. Adequate and quality sleep is a must to keep ourselves and those around us safe. Tune in to learn how you can begin the journey of prioritizing restorative sleep!


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 yet 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 and 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. Today I’m very excited to have with me, Ahna De Vena. She’s a sleep expert and consultant, has been in this space for well over 20 years, and has worked across many different industries as well as in her not-for-profit work. And the quote on our website that really caught my attention, was from sleepless to sleep, superstar. Anna, welcome to the show. A really important topic to talk about is sleep tiredness has so many impacts on safety and well-being so maybe why don’t you start out by sharing a little bit about your journey in the sleep space and we’ll take it from there?

It’s great to be here, thank you for having me. I would say that my journey began as a sleepless teenager in my early 20s as a result of lack of sleep for over eleven years I had a breakdown mental and physical and ended up collapsing in public I was taken to hospital and diagnosed with some quiet serious autoimmune conditions, and I did a big review of my life and realized things needed to change. When I was offered meds and told I’d have to take them for the rest of my life I said no and decided that I really wanted to learn how to recover from the sleeplessness that I had endured and just live a really healthy life because I could still remember back to when I was younger and was able to sleep very well and I just knew that I could get back there. And so, I changed course and studied natural medicine mainly for my own knowledge and my own recovery. And after applying that for a few years I fully recovered and then decided I really wanted to help others with this issue where there was very little help at that time. And so, I started in schools because for me when I looked back I thought wow, we’re meant to spend one-third of our lives asleep and yet I didn’t receive any sleep education and that’s the primary reason I got into such difficulty. And so, I decided I wanted to be part of changing that in the world. And I began working with kids and teenagers first, which I did for years, and then adults asked me if I could run courses for them, and then I started working with one-on-one clients more and more and very successful private practices throughout the world. So, I’ve lived in quite a few different places. And essentially the work that I do now for groups, I do still work with people one on one, and I’ve got some products and then I work with groups is really a distillation of all the work I’ve done with individuals over the past 20 odd years. And it’s just very takeaway orientated so people can elicit change immediately. And that’s what I’m about. I can have a five-minute conversation with someone at the grocery store and just tune in and give them that little bit of knowledge they need to make a shift. And so, one of my biggest messages is we all have a natural ability to sleep well. When we can tap into that and support that, then we can shift so much and literally change our entire life. Because when we change our sleep, we change our health, we change our outlook, we change our relationships, our productivity, everything. And so that’s, for me, a very important message for people to get. But it’s not rocket science. But we’re very much out of sync now. We’re in a global sleep loss epidemic. It’s worth every year. So, we really need to be focusing on this.

Definitely. We hear more and more about the impact of sleep. And when we think about in the safety space, there are a lot of safety implications if you’ve got some sleep deficit. I’m thinking also about a lot of the work that people are doing that has high risk and involves shifts, which also has its own impact on sleep and there’s also an impact on executives. Can you maybe share a little bit about the importance of sleep and how we can impact safety, performance, and culture overall?

Well, I think one of the easiest ways to look at it is that when we lose sleep when we don’t get the amount of sleep we need, we’re essentially acting in the same way as when we’re drunk. And so, we have very slow reflexes. Our brain doesn’t make good decisions. All our executive functions are impaired. And we become dysfunctional on so many levels. So being tired, in a way, isn’t the worst thing. It’s really our ability to respond, to recognize where we are fully and what’s needed from us on all levels. So, if you’re operating machinery when I lived in New Zealand, I lived at a port in Nelson and I worked with a lot of men who worked at the port and there were accidents because they couldn’t respond, or they were driving machinery and didn’t drive the machinery well enough. I had one guy who was in charge of a large room full of machinery, and he said to me when he came to me for help, he said, someone almost died a few weeks ago. No, because I was so fatigued I couldn’t see how dangerous the situation was.

And I was supposed to be overseeing all the workings in this room, I think on every level from the person operating the machinery to the people overseeing any kind of environment where there’s dangerous equipment being run. There are a lot of risks and then there are risks, say, for the CEO running a company who can’t keep that long-term vision and perspective when he’s making decisions today. And McKinsey did a study involving 1900 individuals across 91 companies and they found that sleep-deprived brains lose the ability to make accurate judgments which then leads to irrational and unjustified claims and I’m quoting here, such as I don’t need sleep, I’m doing fine with just a few hours of sleep. And so, what happens is the brain is so dysfunctional that the sleepless person can’t even realize they’re sleep deprived, and I think their lives are one of the greatest dangers of sleep deprivation.

Interesting, and the other element is if I think about a lot of higher-risk roles, there are a lot of shifts. People maybe are working through the night, maybe they’re alternating from day shifts to night shifts. How does that impact somebody’s ability to rest and to really recover through sleep?

So, shift workers really have the worst end of the stick in many ways. Matthew Walker talks about it a fair bit. They’re at much higher risk of dying than anyone because their body clock and their brains are just so scrambled, you could say. And I have worked with many shift workers, and I’m appalled at the lack of consideration for basic human needs. Honestly, I’m shocked. And then people like nurses and doctors who are performing surgeries or procedures that are potentially life-threatening and having to make decisions that really impact people and they do not have the cognitive ability and even the physical coordination to be able to function properly. To me, this is one of the most kinds of disappointing and astounding aspects of society really, that we’re not protecting people more and particularly shift workers. Like there are very simple things that they could do for shift workers, which I know quite a few companies are starting to do now. But keeping the same shift for a week rather than doing three different shifts in a week allows the body to at least get some rest in a rhythmical manner. Whereas if you’re doing three different kinds of shifts in a week, it’s almost impossible to get the rest that you need to function properly.

But if you are diligent and you are very careful about how you manage the time your downtime, then you can at least get deep rest. And I think that deep rest isn’t respected enough, and people think if I’m not asleep then it’s a waste of time. But, if we know and train ourselves to rest deeply, that can then turn into sleep. But deep rest is extremely valuable. Back to your question. Shift workers need to learn the skills needed to switch off quickly more than anyone else on the planet. They really need that because their downtime is so precious and so they don’t have the luxury of hours of agitation that they can’t they just don’t have it. They’ve got to be back at work in X number of hours. So, they need to understand how to support their bodies down out of high stress, which is where everybody, and when I say everybody is I mean our bodies go into very high stress and high inflammation when we’re sleep deprived. So, it’s just so critical that shift workers know how to bring that inflammation down and how to bring the stress hormones down and then come into a state of deep rest where sleep is possible.

And you’ve got some other elements that are also mixing into it. For example, maybe their rest time is when the sun starts coming up and all the lights are up, and activity noise is higher because that’s when most people are active. So, you’ve got all sorts of things I’m even thinking about airline crews that are flying all sorts of different hours’ time zones. Jet lag all these pieces really require they mentioned some degree of awareness training in terms of tactics and then.

Carry a kit with them where they can make a room they can rest in because if we just go willy-nilly without being prepared then we could lose that time that we could be sleeping. Where are a pair of earplugs, an eye mask, and some tape? Tape is something that I tell everyone who’s sleeping in hotel rooms or unfamiliar places that they should take some black tape. It doesn’t leave marks on things. So, they can black out the room or cover over bright light shining down on them or out of the wall. Yeah. So just those three things can make a massive difference when you’re traveling and then also knowing how to manage time zones and how to prepare for travel but obviously, that’s a bit different. But although shift workers sometimes are traveling over time zone fly and fly out people.

So, it gets a good segue into getting into a little bit of the elements that an organization can do in teams of bringing sleep as part of a wellness or safety program. What are some of the best practices that you’ve seen in this space?

I think that the first thing that needs to be acknowledged is that sleep and work aren’t separate. I think for too long companies have thought of sleep as something outside of any realm that they need to address which, having worked with thousands of people the impact that work has on someone’s sleep. I’ve seen first-hand the number of people who can’t get to sleep who lie there thinking, worrying, or problem-solving in the middle of the night for their job because they’re so committed or they’re so stressed or they’re just so impacted by their work or inspired. I’ve had quite a lot of clients who are just overly inspired to the point where they can’t sleep. So, it’s not always a negative.


So, I think companies need to acknowledge that sleep is impacted by work, and work is impacted by sleep length and quality hugely. If their employees are turning up tired, it’s costing them in many ways. And Deloitte Access Economics did a study combined with the Australian Sleep Foundation and the final report was aptly named Asleep on the Job. And they quantified the cost of insufficient sleep in Australia, and this was in 2016 to 2017 and just the productivity loss of productivity costs Australia 18 billion a year. So that’s huge. So, if we think about it, what sleeplessness is costing us professionally and personally, it’s just hard to quantify really, because if you’re living your days feeling exhausted, unable to be present, afraid of making a mistake, or even just making mistakes that have a serious impact, then that’s not really living. So, I think there needs to be a shift in how people view sleep, and any company that wants to help their employees well then needs to come right up to the top of priorities. Because traditionally diet and exercise and weight loss are areas that wellness programs have covered, and sleep has a massive impact on all three of those areas.

If you don’t get sufficient sleep, your diet just goes out the window. You actually don’t have control over what you eat because all the peptides that control appetite are just completely thrown, and you put on weight, and exercise can be detrimental. When we haven’t had sufficient sleep, if we do it in a way that elevates our stress, for instance, or if we do it at the wrong time of day, or it just doesn’t get done at all because we’re so tired, sleep needs to be the foundation of a wellness program. That’s my opinion after so many years working in this industry and its time and I feel that people are starting to wake up to this fact. I’m very grateful for Matthew Walker who’s written the fantastic book Why We Sleep. That’s a great read for anyone because we all sleep. I just want a little warning there for people who read it to be aware that you might become absolutely terrified of not getting enough sleep when you read it because he goes into all the nitty-gritty of what happens to our bodies and our minds when we don’t get the sleep we need.

Definitely, something to read to provoke thinking in that space.

This episode of the Safety Guru podcast is brought to you by Propulo Consulting, the leading safety, and safety culture advisory firm. Whether you are looking to assess your safety culture, develop strategies to level up your safety performance, introduce human performance capabilities, re-energize your BBS program, enhance supervisory safety capabilities, or introduce unique safety leadership training and talent solutions. Propulo has you covered. Visit us at

In a wellness program. It sounds like there are elements around teaching people the importance of sleep. Correct me if I’m wrong, but also have some strategies around how to get better sleep and maybe recognize signs of fatigue. Are those the types of themes that typically are covered?

Yes. I think that people need to understand why sleep is important and not just getting sufficient sleep, but sufficient quality sleep. There’s too much emphasis put on the length of sleep we’re getting and not enough at all on the quality of sleep we’re getting. And if we flip that around and focus on getting quality sleep then we will naturally get the length of sleep we need. And that’s something people need to become more aware of you can sleep seven to 8 hours and still wake up tired. In fact, when I do my pre-course survey, about 60% of participants report that they were getting around 7 hours of sleep but still waking up tired. And so, this is part of the epidemic that we’re now in that people might be in bed for that time, perhaps asleep, but the amount of quality sleep they’re getting, the amount of deep sleep they’re getting is way lower than what they need to truly rejuvenate while they’re sleeping.

Interesting. It makes me think that there’s also a need for awareness at the boardroom level in terms of decision-making because there are impacts that the organization creates that have an impact on safety around. We talked about before shifts and shift patterns. The other thing that comes to mind is overtime, which can be a delicate balance because sometimes overtime can be very high remuneration for the employee, and they see it as an encroachment. But if you’re working 18 hours a day or 24 hours a day and getting minimal rest and recovery, it strikes me that in high-risk role, that’s incredibly dangerous actually probably in any role, not just in a high-risk role.

Yes, it is. And I’ve seen a lot of people compromising their health and their well-being and their capacity to perform at an optimum level, taking shifts, doing overtime, or just saying yes because they’re afraid of losing their job. If they say no, that’s something that happens. There’s bullying. People know that they shouldn’t take it, but they’re afraid to say no or they’re afraid not to do it for fear of losing their job. So, in terms of a company culture that needs to be interwoven so that people aren’t afraid, that people are able to really take stock of how they are and make a decision that reflects their ability, not oh God, I better say yes because otherwise, my job is at risk. Sure, that kind of company culture is beyond toxic. That kind of thing just so needs to change.

And I’ve seen it even at a crew level. So, there’s corporate culture and then there can also be team dynamics that create that need to be in check where somebody’s like just do the extra or just push a little bit harder or something like that, that can also be toxic. 

Yeah. And if you’ve got a leader of your team who’s doing over many extra hours and kind of creating this we don’t need sleep, I don’t need sleep. So, you shouldn’t need sleep, what’s wrong with you? Type thing wearing a badge almost of being a hero for operating on very little sleep. That’s extremely dangerous. And just on that note, there is a small percentage of the population, 3% of the population have a gene that makes it possible for them to function normally on 6 hours of sleep. And so, if you’ve got them as a team leader, if you got one of them as a team leader, that’s a scary position to be in because then you start trying to exist on the same amount of sleep as one of these people.


If you look at burnout now and the prevalence of burnout now compared to even just ten years ago, it’s so much more prevalent. And I think since covert our stress levels are so much higher and there is a direct link to high stress and lack of sleep and those they feed each other. So generally, lack of sleep will start occurring due to some kind of height and stress. And then if we don’t have the skills and the ability to get out of that cycle, then one just feeds the other. Lack of sleep feeds the high stress. The high stress leads to more lack of sleep and then it just goes on and on and-on-and people feel they can’t get out, but they also just start to think of it as normal. And that’s something I try to tell people. It’s not normal. Even though it feels normal, even though you think you don’t have a problem, there actually is an issue here that needs addressing. And so that’s one of the hardest things to get people to recognize there is a problem and it needs addressing.

And I think that’s where the need for as well the organization to bring this at the forefront from a safety standpoint, from a wellness standpoint becomes really important.


So let’s pivot to some of the strategies to improve sleep. You shared one around when you’re traveling to have some tape to be able to make sure the room is dark. What are some of the strategies that you teach in your programs to help somebody become a better master at sleep?

Well, the first thing is to see sleep as a must-have instead of a nice-to-have. So, I think people don’t have enough of a healthy perspective on how important quality sleep is. And I would say that the first thing needs to be an acknowledgment of how important it is because once you have that, then you can start connecting with why you want to get great sleep.


And of course, those two things are kind of interconnected. But unless we have a strong connection to why. We want to get great sleep. Win the battle with the creature of habit that makes us do the same thing over and over and over again and continue getting mediocre or poor sleep already. Is anyone listening to this? The creature of habit inside you is standing on guard and saying. None of this stuff is going to work for me. Whatever she says, it’s not going to work, or I don’t want to do that even before I speak. And so, you’ve got to be aware that this battle has already started and will be there for a month. As you incorporate new patterns of behavior, even a new mindset, you have to battle. And in order to begin to win that battle, you’ve got to have a why. And I say to people, how do you want to feel when you wake up in the morning? And how do you want to feel as you engage with the people in your life, the people you love, how you are able to perform at work and how you’re able to contribute in the world?

How do you want to feel? And so, when you can get in touch with that and then come to a place of saying, you know what? I want to be fully alive. I want my brain to work as well as it can work. I want super brain powers and I want endless energy. And I want the ability to be patient and to be able to listen and to be able to communicate clearly, to be able to keep a long-term perspective. When I’m making decisions for myself, for my family, for my colleagues, and for my company, we have to really have a strong why in order to make any changes. So that would be my first suggestion. The second suggestion is around your relationship with light. We have a segment of our brain called the super charismatic nucleus. And this part of our brain actually regulates our sleep-wake cycle. And the main environmental cues that trigger the sleep-wake cycle are light and temperature. And so, when we are exposed to full spectrum light, that signal from the environment is read through brain cells that are in our eyes called Retinal ganglion cells. And those brain cells in our eyes send a signal to the super charismatic nucleus and say, hey, it’s time to wake up.

And then the super charismatic nucleus says to the adrenal cortex, start making cortisol. Cortisol isn’t just a stress hormone, it’s an energy hormone. And also, is a regulating hormone. It’s an activating hormone. It’s actually very good for us in the white quantities at the right time. So, we need this signal of light. We also need to increase our body temperature to switch on in the morning and then in the evening, we need the signal of darkness, which is also read by these retinal ganglion cells. And these signals are sent to the SCN, okay, stop making cortisol and start making melatonin. Darkness is the best sleeping pill. I’m going to repeat that. Darkness is the best and really the only sleeping pill. We should use long-term signals to our bodies to start making the hormones that we need to get good quality sleep. And this is true for people of all ages and children. All humans need darkness and then coolness the opposite to morning coolness. The body needs to cool down in order to sleep well. So overheated rooms or overheated beds are just going to make you frustrated, and your body won’t be able to fall asleep.

So, if everyone follows this advice, everyone’s quality and length of sleep would improve. And it’s simple, but it’s tricky because we’re living in a time where our evenings are polluted by artificial light. Now, the amount of sleep we’ve gotten globally has declined since artificial light started polluting our evenings. In 1942, the average sleep adults got on the planet was 7.9 hours a night. Now it’s 6.5 and decreasing every year. The last time that was measured was actually discovered. So, in the surveys, I’m doing, my estimate is it’s down to six already as an average. And we need 7.5 to 9 hours, depending on who we are, the average is around eight. To be well mentally and physically, children and teenagers need much more than that. 90% of teenagers are sleep deprived. This is a problem that is yet to be acknowledged and yet to be addressed. I plan on addressing it in the next few years with my sleep kit for teens. I’ve already got a sleep kit for kids. But yeah, everything I’m saying applies to people of all ages.

Interesting, these are all techniques that people can easily implement, and I think it also links back to what you’re talking about. The tip when you’re traveling is to make sure you’ve got a dark environment, is there something as well about when you’re talking about artificial light? People are watching TV more and more using their computers, which from everything I’ve read, stimulates and also counteracts what we’re trying to do in the hours before sleep.

Yeah, so as I said when we get the opposite cue to what the body needs, so the body needs darkness. And when we have this very bright light being read by these brain cells in our eyes, these retinal ganglion cells, they’re getting the opposite signal to what they need. And so, it confuses everything, and it inhibits the production of melatonin, which melatonin should start being produced quite a while before we go to sleep. Whereas people are taking their phones to bed, right, and they’re sending this light signal. And so, one of the things people say to me when they come to me for help, they say, I just don’t get tired at night. I just don’t get tired. I don’t feel sleepy. I said, well, what are you doing? And so, it’s always something that involves light, whether it’s a screen, generally, it’s a screen. But we need to understand what’s happening physiologically. Not just our screens aren’t good for us, but understand that when you’re doing that, but understand that when you’re doing that, that you are confusing your body and messing with your body chemistry. And so, when you do eventually get to sleep, it’s light sleep.

And yes, there are some things you can do. You can wear good quality blue light-blocking glasses. One of the things that I suggest is setting an electronic sundown time and having that be something that everyone in the house adheres to so that parents are setting an example. So, you have a box, and all the phones get put into the box. Anyone letting a teenager or child take their phone or device into their bedroom, yeah, it’s one of the most disastrous and unloving things that a parent can do. That sounds very judgmental, but it’s true because it’s interrupting their development at such a deep level. And it’s just like sending an alcoholic into a room with a bottle of scotch. They don’t have control and they’re severely addicted, so they’ll tell you they’re not on it, but I can tell you they are interesting.

So, you do a lot of programs for organizations. You coach, work, and people with people one on one. If somebody is interested in learning more, how can they get in touch with you?

Great. So, through my website. Sleep well and thrive. Or you can just contact me through LinkedIn Ahna De Vena. They’re the two best places to get in touch with me. And you can read about my corporate programs on my website. And there are lots of testimonials from different companies that have worked with me, and there’s lots of information there.

Excellent. Thank you very much for joining me today. I think it’s an important topic and definitely one that’s been top of mind with the pandemic. Lots of articles have talked about this, but I think it’s important for organizations to, as you propose, really look at it seriously in terms of their wellness programs, their safety programs, looking at their decision-making, how different decisions around shifts, around overtime, can impact restful sleep, but also provide tools for team members around this. So, thank you so much for coming to share your thoughts on this.

My pleasure. Thank you for having me.

Thank you for listening to the Safety Guru on C-suite Radio. Leave a legacy. Distinguish yourself from the path. Grow your success. Capture the hearts and minds of your teams. Elevate your safety. Like every successful athlete, top leaders continuously invest in their safety leadership with an expert coach to boost safety performance. Begin your journey at Come back in two weeks for the next episode with your host, Eric Michrowski. This podcast is powered by Propulo Consulting.

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Ahna De Vena has been a pioneer in the sleep-improvement field for 20+ years. She has extensive experience working with individuals and organisations throughout the world and her corporate program is changing thousands of lives every year. Ahna has developed a unique approach to sleep improvement and stress reduction from observation in her clinical practice and created effective products including a Sleep Cd that was featured on Qantas inflight entertainment for 4 years and a Sleep Kit for Kids that has already helped thousands of kids and families throughout Australia. She’s also the founder of the Sleep & Dream Foundation—a charity that supports children and families who’ve experienced trauma to sleep well and heal.

You can learn more about Ahna’s corporate sleep improvement program or 1:1 sleep recovery package by visiting her website: or by emailing her directly: [email protected]



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Are you feeling sleepy? Why sleep is so critical to stay safe! with Rebecca Brossoit, M.S.



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.


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.

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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.