Feeling Sleepy? It Could Be Dangerous For You And Your Workplace | The Village Family Service Center

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Feeling Sleepy? It Could Be Dangerous For You And Your Workplace

Thursday, May 11, 2017
Man asleep on table at work.

By Joyce Eisenbraun, EAP Trainer
The Village Business Institute

Ever fallen asleep in the car at a stoplight, waiting for it to turn green? Ever nodded off in the middle of a conversation? Briefly closed your eyes – at work – and jerked awake moments later when your head hit the desk?

It’s called sleep deprivation, and it affects millions of workers in our country.

Primary causes of sleep deprivation (SD) include stress, longer work day/week, shift work, insomnia, and the reduction in Americans’ average number of hours slept each night. Just a hundred years ago, people were sleeping 9 hours per night as compared to our current average of around 7 hours.

The impacts to businesses and individuals are staggering:

  • $100 billion in costs to organizations because of fatigue-related issues and accidents
  • More accidents and errors by employees
  • Memory, comprehension issues, and increased risk-taking behaviors
  • Increased sick days, absenteeism

Why aren’t we sleeping?

How does the body decide when it’s time to sleep? The Circadian rhythms of your body are regulated by light and dark. The eyes register the dark, and send the message through the optic nerve to the brain to produce more melatonin, which helps us to sleep. Bright light, on the other hand, triggers serotonin, which helps us stay awake, but is also useful for regulating appetite, learning, and memory.

When we don’t get adequate sleep, our bodies and minds suffer. “Good” sleep includes about 7-9 hours per night as adults. Although many people experience Stage 1 and 2 sleep, which are earlier, lighter sleep phases, it is in Stages 3, 4 and REM sleep that much of the body’s repair and regeneration occurs. For example, in Stage 3, there is the greatest repair of skin, deep connective tissues, muscles, and bones. In Stage 4, 70 to 80 percent of growth hormones are synthesized, giving our muscles strength and endurance. REM sleep helps relieve stress and process emotions, sometimes through wild and imaginative dreams.

Coping mechanisms

There are practical ways of coping with sleep deprivation, beginning with developing good sleep “hygiene.”

The first step is recognizing the importance of sleep and making it a priority. Then create a sleep space that is cool, quiet and comfortable, and commit to getting rid of some sleep-inhibiting habits: Skip napsadjust erratic schedulesskip caffeine/nicotine/alcohol use prior to bedtime, and don’t sleep with pets, to name a few.

When someone is sleep deprived, it may be amusing to watch them struggle to stay awake in meetings, but the reality is far more dangerous for the individual – and the organization. Delayed reaction times, poor decision skills, and reduced attention to tasks mean a less-than-stellar performance, or even serious accidents or injuries.

If you’re feeling sleepy on a regular basis when you should be awake, it may be time to take action. See how you score on this quick Sleep Deprivation scale below. Or call 800-628-8220 to talk to someone. Sleep matters!

Sleep Deprivation Scale

The Epworth Sleepiness Scale* is useful to help you understand if you are having sleep issues. Please rank the following situations as they relate to your usual daily life using the 0 to 3 scale. How likely are you to doze off or fall asleep during these activities, as opposed to feeling just tired?

Epworth Sleep Scale

0 = no chance of dozing
1 = slight chance of dozing
2 = moderate chance of dozing
3 = high chance of dozing


A. Sitting and reading
B. Watching TV
C. Sitting inactively in a public place (theater or meeting)
D. Lying down to rest in the afternoon when circumstances permit
E. Sitting and talking with someone
F. In a car, while stopped for a few minutes in traffic

Scoring: A score greater than 16 is indicative of excessive daytime sleepiness. Research would strongly encourage a conversation with your physician to discuss how you might get better sleep.

*Johns, M.W. (1991). A new method for measuring daytime sleepiness: The Epworth sleepiness scale. Sleep 14(6), 540-545.
Chervin, R.D., Aldrich, M.S., Pickett, R., et al (1997). Comparison of the results of the Epworth Sleepiness Scale and the Multiple Sleep Latency Test. Journal of Psychosomatic Research 42(4), 145-155.