How Sleep Affects Work (and Vice Versa)

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People often discuss how sleep -- and often lack thereof -- can affect work performance. However, not as many people are studying how work impacts the ability to sleep.

Research from the University of Pennsylvania published in SLEEP found that work time is the largest influence on how long an individual sleeps on both work and leisure days. It's not just in North America, either. A 2005 study found that 36 percent of women in Finland had trouble sleeping at least once a week that year; 27 percent of men in the study said the same. But just six years prior in 1999, only 26 percent of women and 20 percent of men were reporting sleep problems once a week in the country. Experts suggest the reason for this drastic change can be attributed to both occupational stress and abnormal working hours.

Similar to how stress affects sleep, work has profound implications on sleep as well. When their schedule calls for it, shift workers must alter their body's natural circadian rhythm in order to switch from sleeping at night to day. Some employees work long hours with only short bursts of sleep available before they have to report back to work the next day.

According to the Better Sleep Council, sleep deprivation currently costs U.S. businesses nearly $150 billion annually in absenteeism and lost productivity. It may pay for employees and workers to collaborate on the best strategies for improving morale and performance by matching working hours with sleeping habits. This way each gets the best of both worlds.

Not getting enough sleep can impact personal health in many ways, including:

* Elevated risk of getting major illnesses, including cancer, diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.

* Inability to concentrate or poor decision-making.

* Putting the body in a state of high alert, increasing the production of stress hormones.

* Weight gain, either through stress or eating at times when the body is not accustomed to eating.

* Affecting skin and other tissue appearance.

* Poor reaction times, which can lead to accidents.

* Increased risk of developing mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety.

While there is no magic number, sleep experts say a person needs between 7 and 9 hours of sleep every night to function at his or her prime. Individuals should also make efforts to improve their quality of sleep. Here are a few ways to do so.

* Invest in a new mattress if yours is old and no longer comfortable. This will alleviate twisting and turning -- and potentially waking -- from an uncomfortable mattress.

* Keep the bedroom for sleep and intimacy only. If there are stressors or stimulating things in the room, like a computer or television, they may impact sleep.

* Limit caffeine intake, particularly several hours before bedtime.

* Maintain a regular sleep-wake schedule each and every day -- even on the weekend.

* If you are having trouble falling or staying asleep, consult with a doctor. Insomnia is very common, and there are different treatment options that can help you get rest.

Sleep and work are often intertwined and can impact each other. Because sleep is vital for maintaining health, it's important to strike a balance so that sleep can be achieved.

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