More than 35% of workers in the U.S. are not getting enough sleep, a new study has found. That can lead to serious workplace safety issues, especially for occupations that use heavy machinery, people who work in factories or warehouses, construction or as drivers.

Among workers in other occupations it can lead to costly mistakes, friction among staff and poor communications, all of which can have a detrimental effect on your operations.

The study by researchers at Ball State University looked at self-reports of sleep duration among 150,000 adults working in different occupations between 2010 and 2018. Researchers found the prevalence of inadequate sleep, defined as seven hours or less, had increased from 30.9% in 2010 to 35.6% in 2018.

Lead researcher Jagdish Khubchandani, a professor of health science at Ball State University, identified these factors as being behind the increase:

  • Rising stress loads for a variety of reasons, due to pressure at work and at home, and
  • Thanks to the rise of smartphones, people are not unplugging from work and continue checking their phones for work-related messages. Because of this, many people are dealing with work issues up until they go to bed, which can make it more difficult to fall asleep.

Sleep deprivation can have a number of detrimental effects in the workplace, including:

Decreased communication — A worker who is sleepy may not communicate as well as they normally do. This can include mumbling, poor enunciation, slurring, running words together and not speaking in complete thoughts.

Decline in productivity — Workers who don’t get enough sleep are slower at performing their jobs and often make mistakes, which requires them to go back and do things over again.

Increased distraction — Sleep-deprived individuals often have trouble maintaining focus on their tasks, keeping track of events, maintaining interest in outcomes and doing work they consider non-essential.

Impaired driving — Getting behind the wheel after not having enough sleep can be akin to driving under the influence of alcohol. But it’s not only company drivers you have to be concerned about. If you have forklifts, lawnmowers or operators of any type of machinery, there is a greater chance they’ll make a mistake when operating those vehicles or machines if they are sleep-deprived.

More mistakes — A lack of sleep results in a decline in cognitive abilities, which can result in workers making mistakes. These include errors performing tasks or failing to perform tasks. Mistakes especially are likely in subject-paced tasks in which cognitive slowing occurs, and with tasks that are time-sensitive, which cause increases in cognitive errors.

Memory can suffer — Short-term and working memory can decline due to sleep deprivation.

Poor mood — Not enough sleep can make people moody and can result in inappropriate outbursts, impatience, lack of regard for social conventions, inappropriate behavior and irritability — all of which can affect a positive work culture.

Increased risk-taking — Judgment can be affected by not sleeping enough, which can result in risky decision-making, which in turn can result in workplace accidents and injuries.

What you can do

If you suspect you have staff who are not getting enough sleep and that it may be affecting their work performance, you can:

  • Ensure they have a reasonable work schedule. That includes not working them too much and asking them not to take work home with them.
  • Offer more flexibility. You can offer staff the ability to work from home a few times a week or per month.
  • Cut down on e-mails and meetings. Set a company policy for communication and encourage brief, face-to-face meetings and phone calls instead of drawn-out e-mail discussions.
  • Provide employees time to recharge. Offering time to recharge, along with flexibility and a healthier workload, can improve employee restfulness and ease workplace pressures.
  • Don’t require staff to answer work e-mails at home.