The dangers of sleep deprivation in the workplace


By Leor Lindner, DMD, Create Dental Harmony

Sleep matters, and in South Carolina’s manufacturing ecosystem, it’s tied directly to the bottom line. Studies across the board have identified sleep deprivation as not only a safety hazard but also a liability on a company’s finances.

According to the S.C. Manufacturing Extension Partnership (SCMEP), there are more than 5,000 manufacturing firms employing nearly 250,000 men and women across the Palmetto State. And with the ports in Charleston and Georgetown, and the inland port in Greer processing more than $53 billion in annual economic impact, logistical companies are trucking cargo up and down the highways day and night.

Researchers at the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine concluded fatigue-related productivity losses could cost nearly $2,000 per employee annually, while an article published by the Harvard Business Review pointed to workers in manufacturing and transportation as being particularly susceptible to sleep deprivation.

Brian Kuney, SCMEP regional vice president, has linked sleep deprivation to a list of potential impacts in South Carolina, including workplace injuries, illnesses, and fatalities.

“Similar issues cost billions of dollars each year around the U.S., and beyond the immediate financial impact, there are more than 1 million injuries experienced by workers in an average year contributing to the loss,” he said. “Injuries from falls or lapses in judgment are often due to forgetfulness, habit, and fatigue.”

In addition to sleep deprivation’s impact on workplace safety, people suffering from a lack of sleep are also more likely to get sick and be out of work, growing the company’s cost. During sleep stages three and REM, the body repairs damaged tissue while growing more. If these stages do not occur, or occur without consolidation, white blood cells will diminish as inflammatory cells multiply.

Unfortunately, most people suffering from sleep deprivation are not aware they have an issue until they are diagnosed with one of its many offshoots, including diabetes, restless leg syndrome, heart palpitations, and insomnia.

Sleep apnea is often to blame for sleep disorders, but there are degrees of severity. Mild sleep apnea with frequent sleep disturbance can be more harmful than its more extreme version. Why? Mild sleep apnea is commonly overlooked, and without treatment, the potential for body dysfunction rises to its most severe.

Every arousal or sleep stoppage causes a sympathetic nervous system response, such as increased heart rate, decreased blood flow to vital organs, and an increased need for energy. Essentially, the body begins to work overtime when it should be resting and restoring.

Sleep apnea is commonly treated with an apparatus called a CPAP, a machine that delivers pressurized air through the nose using a nasal mask. The pressure creates a pneumatic splint in the upper airway and prevents obstruction.

The obstructive issues range from narrow airways and enlarged tonsils and tongue, to dental malocclusions like crowded teeth, cross-bite, or enlarged tissue in the mouth. The most common indicator of this issue is snoring.

“Unfortunately, the compliance rate for a CPAP is a mere 40 percent,” said Ken Hooks, clinical director of True Sleep Diagnostics in Greenville.

“These patients often develop further issues and return for additional sleep studies when they should be prescribed an oral sleep appliance from a dentist trained in sleep medicine, airway, and TMJ,” he said. “Although the treatment is less known, the appliance is custom-designed and can be worn comfortably while sleeping to open airways.”

Essentially, better sleep means a safer environment and healthier workers, and with manufacturing and logistical employment being what it is in South Carolina, a rested workforce is a safe, productive, and compliant workforce.

Sleep-deprived, caffeine-stimulated employees also have lower rates of job satisfaction, while a lack of sleep drives job frustration, lackluster performance, increased absence, poor communication, and horrible customer service.

Due to the regular incidences of sleep deprivation in industries impacting the Palmetto State’s economy, Don Snizaski, CEO of Life and Safety Consultants Inc., recommends companies provide their employees with sleep assessments.

“In today’s business climate, the muscle behind your productivity is your workforce,” he said. “A rested workforce will equate to reduced injuries and better quality.”


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