With the change from Daylight Savings Time, grayer skies, colder weather, fewer hours of sunlight, as well as the start of cold and flu season, there are many reasons workers may be fatigued in the late fall and winter. In addition, the stress of the holidays and busier work schedules as the end of the year approaches, can wear employees out this time of year more than usual.

Why does this matter to the employer?

According to a report from the National Safety Council, nearly four out of 10 employees in the U.S. suffer from sleep loss. When workers are fatigued, they are at higher risk of injury. About 13 percent of workplace injuries are directly attributable to fatigue.

Fatigue costs American businesses about $136 billion in health-related productivity. And, NSC estimates that an employer “with 1,000 employees can expect to experience more than $1 million lost each year to fatigue: $272,000 due to absenteeism and $776,000 due to presenteeism. An additional $536,000 in healthcare costs could be avoided with optimization of sleep health.”

Employers can be Proactive

One of the most important factors in a good night’s sleep is routine. Employers can help by optimizing employee schedules:

  • Put people on regular, predictable schedules if possible.
  • Avoid having workers on shifts longer than 10 or 12 hours.
  • Ensure that there is enough downtime between shifts.
  • If your business requires night shifts, don’t make the night shift assignment permanent.
  • Include breaks in the work schedule.

Beyond their work hours, the responsibility for getting enough sleep lies with the individual. However, the employer can help promote healthy sleep habits through education. Following are some ways you can advise your employees to ensure that they are getting the rest they need:

Have them Check for Consistency in Sleep Duration

  • Employees should ask themselves: Do I sleep more on my days off than on workdays? If so, they’re not sleeping enough on workdays. The recommended minimum is seven hours, but some people require more.
  • Suggest the vacation test: While on vacation, they should try to sleep as much as they want. After several days, their sleep duration will stabilize. That should be their minimum amount of daily sleep.

Recommend a Consistent Sleep Schedule

Just as important as sleep duration, a regular sleep schedule will help keep the employee on their game during work hours. Advise them to:

  • Use light to their advantage; morning light helps to synchronize their internal clock
  • Avoid eating big meals close to bedtime, as this can affect sleep quality.
  • Avoid exercising close to bedtime; regular exercise generally improves sleep, but not at bedtime.

Inform Employees about Sleep Disrupters

Your employee may have some habits or routines that can interfere with getting quality sleep:

  • Caffeine, nicotine and alcohol can all contribute to sleep problems
  • Certain medications may have side effects that affect sleep.
  • A bedroom environment may not be conducive to sleep. A quiet, dark room that is not too hot and not too cold is most sleep-friendly.  
  • For some people, using an electronic device such as a laptop can make it hard to fall asleep, because the particular type of light emanating from the screens of these devices can activate the brain.
  • If you have daytime sleepiness or your bed partner witnesses snoring or breathing pauses, you may have sleep apnea and should see a sleep specialist.

Healthy sleep habits can help to keep employees more alert both on and off the job and will reduce the risk of fatigue-related accidents and costs to your business.