Last week, one of the alternate jurors in the Whitey Bulger trial became a Twitter sensation when he fell asleep during opening statements in the first day of the trial. He is not alone in nodding off on the job – in a recent article on workers falling asleep on the job, Quentin Fottrell offers more recent examples. He cites a 2011 Harvard Medical Study that puts the cost of insomnia at $2,280 per worker per year in reduced productivity, equating to 11 work days lost per worker.
He suggests that longer hours, staying connected 24/7 and stress are contributing factors to this problem. Family issues such as a new baby or caretaking may also contribute to fatigue. And of course, isolated incidents of sleepiness might just be the result of staying up too late – many employers gird for a drop in productivity with the so-called “Super-Bowl effect” on the Monday following the big game.
Fatigue may also be related to the nature of the work, such as repititious work, late night shifts, or long shifts. Experts refer to the syndrome of Shift Work Sleep Disorder and point to numerous high-profile fatal accidents in which sleeping on the job or sleep deprivation were cited as major factors. Sleepiness on the job may also be related to illness or a health condition, poor nutrition, lack of exercise.
Some companies are addressing the problem by having napping rooms or encouraging power naps. And the sleepy people themselves are concerned and grappling with the issue. Sleep seekers spend millions each year buying noise machines, pharmaceuticals and better pillows. What really works? 10 things the sleep-aid industry won’t tell you offers a fascinating and dare we say eye-opening look at these “solutions” and suggests:
“…doctors say some of the most effective techniques for improving sleep — such as exercising, not eating before bed, limiting screen time at night and getting natural light in the morning — are free. The Consumer Reports analysis also recommended behavioral therapy, including relaxation techniques and limiting time in bed, for people with chronic insomnia. “The best solution is to make sure that you follow the rules of biology,” says Dr. Larry Kline, medical director for the Viterbi Family Sleep Center at the Scripps Clinic in San Diego.”
The prevalence of fatigue on the job is just another reason why wellness programs are so important. In addition to addressing contributing factors such as diet, nutrition, and inactivity, a good wellness program should also offer resources for stress reduction and relaxation.
For more resources on sleep and fatigue, see:


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ESI EAP offers 24-7 access to counselors and a wide variety of support resources for employees and family members who are facing difficult health challenges. We also offer wellness benefits and health risk assessments, including discounts for weight loss programs, exercise and nutrition programs, and stop smoking programs. If you want to learn more about how ESI can provide more employee EAP benefits and more employer services, call us at 800-535-4841.

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