Workplace Culture


By Sarah Sipek

Feb. 22, 2016

Symptoms: Difficulty falling asleep, frequent awakening, not feeling well-rested after sleeping, daytime tiredness and irritability, depression or anxiety, difficulty focusing and indigestion. 

Diagnosis: Work stress is a common cause of insomnia. Deadlines and other daily demands can keep the mind active at night, which makes it difficult to get a restful night’s sleep. In addition, travel and prolonged periods of coming in early or working late can disrupt your circadian rhythms — the body’s internal clock that regulates the sleep-wake cycle, metabolism and body temperature.

Doctor’s Orders: When it comes to dealing with tired employees, education is the best intervention, according to Dr. David Zich, an internist and emergency medicine physician at Northwestern Medicine in Chicago.

“Most people have bad sleeping habits,” Zich said. “Making employees aware of what they’re probably doing wrong and offering solutions to fix it can have a measurable impact on their alertness at work.”

Step 1: Get the screens out of the bedroom. The light emitted from TVs and the like suppresses a body’s production of melatonin and can severely disrupt sleep, Zich said. 

Step 2: Cut out the caffeine. Drinking caffeinated beverages late in the day can prevent an employee from getting to sleep at a normal time, Zich said, and can lead to fatigue.

Employer Action: Wellness programs can also play a significant role in helping employees battle insomnia. A 2010 study conducted by the National Sleep Foundation found that moderate-intensity aerobic workouts, such as walking, reduced the average time it took a person to fall asleep.

Zich recommends offering a combination of gym access and yoga classes. “Progressive muscle relaxation is practiced in restorative yoga positions and can help employees reduce anxiety and get to sleep at night,” he said.

Also, track employees’ stress levels, Zich said. Stress is a leading cause of insomnia. Any steps an employer can take to monitor workload and anticipate warning signs of overwork will help minimize employees’ insomnia. 

Sarah Sipek is a Workforce associate editor.

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