Planning on Getting Enough Sleep Over the Upcoming Holidays?

December 19, 2010 by Ken Nowack

“The amount of sleep required by the average person is five minutes more.”

Wilson Mizener


I woke up tired this morning and know exactly why…I didn’t get both enough sleep and good quality sleep last night. Good thing I’m not making executive decisions, flying the space shuttle or doing delicate brain surgery, not to mention being the third link in the security at one of our nuclear power plants.

Well, maybe you won’t be surprised that in a recent study of US workers, the prevalence of fatigue (lack of sleep being one of the major contributors) was 37.9%. Fatigue, when present, is associated with a threefold increase, on average, in the proportation of workers with condition-specific lost productive time1. A Sleep in America Poll released by the National Sleep Foundation in 2008 reported that 65 percent of Americans have trouble falling asleep, wake during the night or wake feeling unrefreshed at least a few times each week.

In fact the top three causes of lost work time (absence and presenteeism) by U.S. employees based on research from Ron Kessler at the Harvard Medical School  include: Sleep disorders, depression and fatigue. These three each account for approximately 425-490 lost workdays per 100 full time employees.

Even the prestigious Harvard Business Review (October 2006) conducted an interview with sleep expert Dr. Charles Czeisler on the relationship between lack of sleep, poor performance and impaired decision making and judgment.  He suggested that corporate America should pay more attention to the impact of lack of sleep on employee health, safety and productivity.

My colleague, friend and personal sleep expert Dr. Mark Rosekind who is now a Member of the National Transportation Safety Board has found that even two hours less sleep than you need at night can negatively impact mood, psychomotor and cognitive funtioning including:

  • Degrading critical judgment and decision making by 50%
  • Diminishing memory by 20%
  • Interfering with communication skills by 30%
  • Affecting mood by 100% (good mood goes down and bad mood goes up)

Well, any new parent can attest to these findings….

If we look at some provocative new research maybe lack of sleep does indeed have an upside. According to data from the Cancer Prevention Study II, individuals who average seven hours of sleep each night have a lower mortality rate than do those who sleep eight hours or more2.

These findings were also consistent with earlier research suggesting that the lowest mortality was again at seven hours of total sleep, with some increase in mortality associated with short sleep and an even steeper increase with long sleep. Good news indeed given that the average American on weekdays sleeps about six and one-half hours.

Stanford’s Dr. Clete Kushida, president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, who has worked in the field of sleep research since 1977, offers these tips to a better night’s sleep:

  • Maintain a regular schedule, getting to bed and rising at the same time as consistently as possible each day, selecting the number of hours of sleep that make you feel best, whether it’s seven hours or 10.
  • Use bright light within five minutes of waking, for 30 minutes, to synchronize your internal clock.
  • Avoid bright light two to three hours before bedtime, which delays sleep onset. If you read, get just enough light to read and avoid halogen.
  • Avoid remaining in bed if you can’t sleep. After 20 minutes, if you can’t sleep or fall back asleep, go into another room and do something else until you feel drowsy.
  • Avoid reading or watching TV in bed (especially thriller novels or action shows) unless it makes you drowsy.
  • Avoid napping, unless you nap every day at the same time for the same amount of time or you are tired and about to get behind the wheel of a car.

All obvious you say? Don’t blame me then when you wind up dreaming about this blog tonight.
zzzzzzzzzzzend….Be well….

[tags]insomnia, sleep, fatigue, depression, sleep disorders, fatigue countermeasures, REM, NREM, circadian rhythms, stress, dreams, dreaming, health, job burnout, kenneth nowack, ken nowack, nowack[/tags]

  1. Ricci, J., Chee, Lorandeau, A. & Berger, J. (2007). Fatigue in the U.S. Workforce: Prevalence and Implications for Lost Productive Work Time. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. 49 (1), 1-10 []
  2. Kripke DF, Garfinkel L, Wingard DL, et al. Mortality associated with sleep duration and insomnia. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2002;59:131-136 []

Kenneth Nowack, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist (PSY13758) and President & Chief Research Officer/Co-Founder of Envisia Learning, is a member of the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations. Ken also serves as the Associate Editor of Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research. His recent book Clueless: Coaching People Who Just Don’t Get It is available for free for a limited time by signing up for free blog updates (Learn more at our website)

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