Digital connectivity adding to sleep crisis

Round-the-clock access to technology could be one of the key factors in the nation's sleep deprivation crisis

The ‘24-hour office’ is contributing to a workforce of sleep-deprived employees, according to a new report by health and performance expert Global Corporate Challenge (GCC).

The GCC Insights report, based on the responses of 97,000 employees, cites round-the-clock access to technology as one of the key factors in the sleep crisis.

Stuart Quan, McGinnis professor of sleep medicine at Harvard Medical School, and one of the experts cited in the report, warned that connected workers are twice as likely to sleep less than six hours compared to those who are offline.

“The irony is that these employees may be sacrificing rest to appear more productive,” he said. “But in reality, lack of sleep negatively affects productivity through increased levels of absenteeism and presenteeism. It increases the likelihood of mistakes and accidents. And in some industries this can have serious consequences.”

GCC’s chief medical officer David Batman agreed that constant connectivity after hours is a major factor in the sleep crisis. However, he also urged employers to look closely at what happens around job expectations and requirements.

“It’s important that we really take a look at our workplace culture,” he said. “Too often people are beset with stress and anxiety. And it’s widely accepted among clinicians that employees who are stressed, anxious or depressed are more vulnerable to insomnia.

“They have less energy and more fatigue as a result. Their concentration and productivity suffer. So pay attention to the environment your staff are working in, as well as being mindful of external stressors that may still affect them on the job.”

Batman said there is hope for employers who want to mitigate the harmful effects of sleep deprivation. “As alarming as the situation can be, all these issues can be improved with increased awareness of job demands and workplace email cultures – and better sleep," he said.

“So put employee wellbeing top of the workplace agenda. Provide education and support around the sleep issue, review the 24-hour culture of continuous business communications, and make it acceptable to switch off email after hours, weekends and on vacation time.”