Sweet, healthy dreams are made of these…

I’m really, really happy that coffee is not a major risk factor for disease.  It’s my fuel for work – I can’t write without it, let alone do any analytical thinking and can’t even really talk coherently before I’ve downed at least two cups.  It’s good that coffee isn’t bad because I use it to compensate for something that is not so healthy…a lack of sleep.

Seven to eight hours a day – that’s what adults are supposed to get.  Anyone with young children has this recommendation tested – against their will.  Once upon a time, I thought ‘if I could just get 4 hours in one stretch, then I’d be good to go’.  Luckily, I get a bit more mattress time these days because in reality my ‘good to go’ looked more like Night of the Living Dead.  That’s because we need a good sleep to process and restore our daily mental and physical functioning.

In my search for healthy workplace policies for the Working on Wellness (WoW) project, I’ve discovered that shift-workers face additional health risks due to the fact that they typically sleep 1 – 4 hours less on nightshifts. According to one review, “Chronic sleep loss has the potential to cause serious problems, because it decreases the effectiveness of insulin signaling, the process of managing energy and metabolism levels in the body. Those who are less sensitive to insulin are in the long-term more likely to suffer from obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.”

Lack of sleep isn’t great for mental wellness either. Studies show that healthy people with a sleep deficit have increased depression, irritability and feelings of stress.  Another lab study, showed performance levels from subjects fatigued by prolonged wakefulness were equivalent to a level of intoxication which would make driving illegal.  Think about that before hitting the roads or operating heavy machinery!

If you’re worried that you’re not getting enough sleep – shoot for seven hours. That seems to be the lucky number (when looking at death and disability across the population).

If you’re a shift worker, then see if your workplace would consider adopting guidelines like the recommendations for nurses and from the International Labour Office (They are on page 273 but if the reading puts you to sleep that might be a good thing…).

Rita Koutsodimos
Manager, Advocacy & Communications
July 2014

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