Sleep hygiene: what is it and why should you care? Sleep Psychologist Dr. Richard Blackburn weighs in on the importance of educating employees on getting enough quality sleep and how it can make a huge impact on workplace productivity.

When is the last time you had a really good night’s sleep? Do you know how it feels to be well rested, awake and alert? Raising children, working extra hours to get ahead and trying to stay connected to a social calendar can all contribute to a constant state of feeling exhausted. Not sleeping enough and getting poor quality sleep are a rite of passage during parenting. As we learn more about the risks of poor sleep habits, we better understand the consequences for productivity and safety at the worksite. For example, most of us know the danger of driving drunk. However, not all of us realize that sleep-deprived individuals exhibit similar driving behaviors as those who are drunk.

So what can be done to improve our sleep? Focus on sleep hygiene. I sat down with Dr. Richard Blackburn, Sleep Psychologist at Regions Sleep Health Center in Maplewood and member of the Board of Directors for the Society of Behavioral Sleep Medicine, to discuss sleep hygiene.

What is sleep hygiene?

Sleep hygiene refers to behaviors that impact quantity and quality of sleep. Having poor sleep hygiene will typically make your sleep worse. Improving it can help, but is seldom used alone as a treatment. The following tips will remove some barriers that negatively impact sleep.

What kind of lifestyle choices could adversely impact good sleep hygiene?

There are a lot of lifestyle choices that impact sleep hygiene. Drinking too much caffeine, smoking, or having a different sleep schedule on days off are the biggest. Additionally, having electronics in the bedroom or not managing stress can also impact sleep. In general, healthy habits also benefit sleep.

People with problems sleeping would do best to:

  1. Eliminate daytime napping or keep naps to under 30 minutes at least eight hours before bed.
  2. Keep a regular sleep schedule of seven to nine hours per night.
  3. Eliminate caffeine at least 10 hours prior to bedtime.
  4. Don’t smoke within two hours of bedtime or during the middle of the night.
  5. Don’t drink alcohol within three hours of bedtime.
  6. Allow for a wind-down time to relax before bed.
  7. Exercise, but not within three to four hours of bedtime.
  8. Deal with worries, emotional topics, or planning for the next day at least two hours before bedtime.
  9. Use the bedroom for sleeping and sexual activities only.
  10. Limit exposure to Blue Light at least 90 minutes prior to bed.

How does good quality sleep affect workplace productivity?

Everything is more difficult when we don’t sleep well. Poor sleep impacts memory, concentration, mood, and overall health. People with poor sleep are eight times more likely to have accidents, miss up to 15 times more work, and when they do show up to work, are half as productive as people who sleep well.

What are some ways employers can help promote sleep hygiene to their employees?

Employers can foster good sleep habits by educating employees on good sleep habits. Most of us learn about healthy diet and exercise, but sleep is seldom discussed, and most people are not well informed about healthy sleep habits. Additionally, if variable shift work is required, there are ways to rotate shifts that minimize the impact on sleep.

In your opinion, what is the biggest ‘return on investment’ for educating workers on the importance of getting enough quality sleep?

Sleep is essential for good productivity and a safe work environment. When you add up the lost hours from employees missing work and the reduction in productivity from poor sleep, to the increased risk of accidents, poor sleep costs an estimated $30-105 billion per year to employers. Treating poor sleep is relatively inexpensive and can cost less than $1,000 per person per year. Most people don’t even need treatment, honestly. All they need to do to sleep better is make small lifestyle changes. Sleep education in the workplace can make a huge difference for employers and employees.

Find out other ways you can support the well-being of your employees.

  • Vice President and Associate Medical Director, Health Initiatives. Dr. Kevin Ronneberg is responsible for designing health solutions for employer groups, strengthening consumer partnerships and building new services and programs. He works closely with health and care engagement, network management, sales and marketing. Through this, he connects the priorities of consumers, employers and care systems, bringing them together to focus on improved health affordability and experience. He offers Employer Academy readers a unique, strategic perspective.

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