Up at 4 am and Needing a Boost!

This morning I needed to drive my son and his friend to the airport for an early morning flight to Chicago. We needed to leave the house by 4 am so, although I don't feel like I get enough sleep on a regular basis, suffice it to say, this was even less! I do own (and wear!) a Fitbit and hope to better understand some day the data it provides regarding not only the amount of sleep I am receiving, but also its quality. Many times we forget to consider the "quality" aspect.

Sleep deprivation is a major societal issue. Many studies have shown that people who sleep poorly are at greater risk for a number of diseases and health problems, let alone the potential impact regarding one's safety and the safety of others. I have written on this topic before. A lack of sleep and sleep disruption can lead to many negative outcomes, many of which present themselves in the work environment. In the workplace, for example, its effects can be seen in reduced efficiency and productivity, errors, and accidents.

Recently I attended the Human Resource Executive Health & Benefits Leadership Conference. One of the workshops I attended focused on the research around the impact of sleep deprivation and a company's use of telemedicine to improve sleep health & productivity for its driver population. Dr. Allan Pack, MBChB, Ph.D., Chief of the Division of Sleep Medicine and Director of the University of Pennsylvania Sleep Center offered research regarding the science around basic sleep and circadian rhythms, along with an understanding of various sleep disorders that can impact the workplace.

Through a variety of examples, Dr. Pack shared compelling evidence of the negative consequences of a sleep-deprived workforce, everything from basic safety issues to poor decision-making. Sleep problems in the workplace can include chronic insufficient sleep, shift-work sleep disorders, insomnia, and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). OSA, a condition whereby the airway collapses or becomes blocked during sleep causing shallow breathing or breathing pauses, is the most common type of sleep apnea, a chronic sleep disorder that many times goes undetected or misdiagnosed. As a result, the quality of sleep is poor, and is a leading cause of excessive daytime sleepiness. 85% of people with sleep apnea do not know they have it. Dr. Pack, internationally recognized for his clinical expertise in sleep disorders, provided the audience members with a detailed understanding of the diagnosis and management of OSA.

There is technology available to effectively screen, diagnose and treat patients who may be suffering from sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea or insomnia. Ambulatory home-sleep testing, coupled with telemedicine access to sleep specialists and remote-monitoring Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) devices are some of the ways that employers can improve population health outcomes, and reduce healthcare costs. OSA can be very effectively treated through CPAP therapy during sleep. CPAP machines use pressurized air to prop open the airways and prevent the repetitive breathing pauses that are the hallmark of OSA. Ongoing adherence can be a challenge to many patients, especially early on in treatment, because the devices can impact the comfort of a person as the individual is falling asleep.

Following Dr. Pack's remarks, Andy Rosa, Director of Human Resources, Benefits and Workforce Health at AmeriGas, the nation's largest retail propane marketer, talked about their organization's partnership with the University of Pennsylvania Sleep Center in addressing sleep apnea among workforce segments in the transportation industry. Recognizing the business issue that sleep and sleep disorders impacts safety, productivity, and health-care costs, AmeriGas created a screening, treatment, and monitoring program that targets new hires.

Using a telehealth program in available states, virtual assessment/screening via an I-pad, care management, including follow-up, ongoing monitoring, and digital/telehealth coaching support, and direct contract with the UPenn Sleep Medicine Department, the company was able to:

  • Provide opportunities to educate employees on tips for better sleep and time management
  • Address the 24/7/365 culture without sacrificing productivity
  • Take advantage of the wearable-device trend
  • Address any related issues in "real" time
  • Partner with external service providers to assess and gather sleep data
  • Provide employees with both financial and emotional support
  • Achieve 100% compliance
  • Improve employee alertness, quality of life, and work performance
  • Incent patients who adhere to ongoing monitoring by reducing or waiving the fees that can be associated with equipment, thereby leading to better health outcomes
  • Achieve a net savings to the company's health-care costs
There are a number of steps that businesses can take to improve employees' sleep and their health. These may include:
  • Provide fundamental education awareness and support programs that focus on employees' specific needs; for example, shift work, travel requirements, and so forth;
  • Educate employees about the importance of sleep and good sleep practices. Encourage them to get enough sleep;
  • Educate employees about sleep disorders and their impact on safety, cognitive awareness, and overall quality of life. Explore potential screening programs.
  • Make sure employees take scheduled breaks, and create a corporate culture in which working more than a set number of hours is discouraged.
  • Offer health promotion programs that address stress management, physical activity/fitness, diet/nutrition, tobacco, alcohol, and substance usage, as part of your overall approach to employee well-being and organizational health & productivity
The recommended seven-to-nine hours of sleep per night is often viewed by many as a luxury. However, sleep is not a luxury, but, rather, is an extremely important part of overall health and well-being. The bottom line is that most people aren't getting enough sleep, and lack of quality sleep costs businesses directly through lost productivity.