A new study of permanent night shift workers suggests that cognitive impairments and performance declines on the night shift are more strongly correlated to insomnia than to sleepiness.
Link between insomnia and work performance on the night shift
The study by researchers at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Michigan on the night shift found that of the workers who regularly experienced insomnia, workers who reported feeling alert on the night shift demonstrated greater degrees of impairment in work productivity and cognitive function than workers who reported excessive sleepiness on the night shift.
The study also found that alert insomniacs reported significantly greater fatigue than sleepy insomniacs, which emphasizes the difference between fatigue and sleepiness.
Fatigue vs Sleepiness
While fatigue and sleepiness may seem like synonymous terms, there are subtle, but distinct differences between the two terms.
As explained in the ‘The Definition of Human Fatigue’, fatigue is an impairment of mental and physical functioning manifested by a cluster of symptoms, one of which is sleepiness.
Fatigue is a term that embodies the feelings of weariness, tiredness, or lack of energy that result from a variety of causes including: sleep deprivation, sleep disorders, illness, therapeutic side effects, stress, mental or physical exertion, and/or rebounds from stimulant drug usage.
Sleepiness, on the other hand, is a symptom of fatigue characterized by an inability to stay awake and an increased propensity to fall asleep.
Significance of findings
The findings from this study are significant, as a recent meta-analysis of 27 observational studies found that sleep problems among shift workers increase the risk of workplace injuries by 62 percent.
A study completed last year by Swiss researchers found that there was a dose-response relationship between sleep problem severity and the odds of a workplace injury occurring.
Workers were 2x more likely to suffer a work injury if diagnosed with a sleep disorder, while workers with a diagnosed sleep disorder and suffering from poor sleep quality had a 3x greater risk of a work injury.
Seventy million Americans suffer from sleep problems, with nearly 60% suffering from a chronic sleep disorder. Given these findings, sleep issues and disorders threaten the safety of many operations across the United States.
Insomnia prevalence in U.S. workforce
One Harvard Medical School study found that 1 in 4 U.S. workers suffers from insomnia, costing U.S. employers $63 billion in lost productivity each year.
A study on the relationship between insomnia and productivity revealed that insomniacs were no more likely than their well-rested peers to miss work; however, their on-the-job sleepiness due to insomnia cost their employers the equivalent of 7.8 days of work in lost productivity each year – with the average cost totaling $2,280 per person.
Chronic vs acute insomnia
WebMD defines insomnia as a sleep disorder characterized by an inability to fall asleep and/or stay asleep. Insomnia can vary in how long it lasts and how often it occurs.
Insomnia can either occur sporadically over a period of days or weeks, known as acute insomnia, or it can be an ongoing problem that occurs at least three nights a week for a month or longer, known as chronic insomnia. Insomnia can also disappear and reappear, with periods of time in which a person has no sleep problems, while other times a person experiences persistent sleep problems.
Insomnia treatment options
Various treatment options exist for insomnia, including cognitive behavioral therapy, lifestyle changes, and various medications.
In recent years, cognitive behavioral therapy has been the recommended initial treatment option for insomnia due to its high efficacy rate and long-lasting benefits without adverse side effects.
In 2004, a group of renowned sleep researchers developed a cognitive behavioral therapy program for insomnia (CBT-I) that was more effective at treating insomnia than sleeping pills.
The program lead developer was Dr. Gregg Jacobs, a leading authority on the treatment of insomnia and who has spent the last 25 years researching and treating sleep problems at Harvard Medical School and the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
Dr. Jacobs’ CBT-I program was used to develop CIRCADIAN GoodSleep®, a 5-week, self-guided audio and/or workbook-based program for people to improve their sleep by implementing behavior modifications. GoodSleep® has been proven to help hundreds of thousands of people to improve their sleep.
GoodSleep® is now a critical part of CIRCADIAN’s Corporate Sleep Programs, which offer corporations customized and research-based solutions to address the issue of Sleep Wellness for all levels of a corporation or organization’s workforce. GoodSleep currently aims to improve sleep for night time sleepers; however, plans are in place to develop a GoodSleep program aimed to help shift workers with their sleep.