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Sleep-deprived workers cost companies $63.2 billion each year

Posting in Education

Stop overworking your employees -- it's costing you.

That's the basic message gained from new Harvard Medical School research that shows that one-third of workers in the U.S. aren't getting enough sleep to function at peak performance, reducing their ability to do their jobs properly.

The Wall Street Journal's Lauren Weber lays it all out for us: 40.6 million (that's 30 percent of the total) U.S. workers don't get enough sleep, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. That translates to wasted time on the job -- 8.4 minutes of staring off into the abyss (or refreshing Facebook for the umpteenth time) for each hour at the office. And that translates to a shocking $63.2 billion in lost productivity.

Ouch. And you thought those trips to the Tokyo office were bad.

That's why managers at blue chip American companies like Procter & Gamble (consumer goods) and Goldman Sachs (financial services) are plowing money into sleep-focused initiatives, such as educational courses and melatonin-regulating lighting, to boost employees' sleep.

They might just consider letting them go home early.

Weber reports:

"If we treated machinery like we treat the human body, there would be breakdowns all the time," said James Maas, a former Cornell University psychologist and author of "Sleep for Success."

Companies have been slow to grasp the effects of sleep deprivation on productivity, but it is now a hot topic even in hard-driving industries, such as finance, where pulling all-nighters is often viewed as crucial to getting ahead.

Unsurprisingly, the situation is exacerbated if you work the night shift.

Short sleep duration figures for a few industries of interest:

  • 24.1 percent -- other services (except public administration)
  • 27.4 percent -- finance and insurance
  • 28.2 percent -- professional, scientific, technical services
  • 28.3 percent -- information

(Hey, it could be worse: 41.6 percent of miners report short sleep duration.)

In the workplace, the phenomenon is called "presenteeism" -- you're there, but not really there. And it's showing up in every corner of the economy.

So what to do? Change the perception of sleep as a weakness and exhaustion as admirable. When it comes to the human body and rest, there are no more efficiencies to be had -- so get the facilities manager to install a few nap rooms and be done with it.

— By on January 23, 2013, 2:21 AM PST

Andrew Nusca

Editor Emeritus

Andrew Nusca is editor of SmartPlanet and an associate editor for ZDNet. Previously, he worked at Money, Men's Vogue and Popular Mechanics magazines. He holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and New York University. He is based in New York but resides in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure