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A Restful Resolution: Prioritizing Sleep Health in the New Year

BY: Tim Hennessy // Editor • IFEBP

In the hustle and bustle of our lives, sleep often takes a back seat to work demands, social obligations and the ever-present glow of screens. How many times this year have you found yourself burning the midnight oil, playing catch up?

The realm of sleep plays a pivotal role in shaping our overall health and well-being. While we navigate our intricate daily routines, one specific goal should be included among everyone’s New Year’s resolutions: acknowledging the profound impact of quality sleep on our physical, mental, and emotional states and prioritizing it.

“For years, society has glorified sleep deprivation. From high-profile, successful business owners who proclaim to only need five hours of sleep to strategies like The 5 AM Club, people have started to believe that getting less sleep means more success,” wrote Lana Walsh, a sleep and insomnia expert. “The reality is quite the opposite.” Walsh’s article “From Zzz’s to A’s: Sleep’s Impact on Productivity and Health” in the November/December issue of Plans & Trusts looked at chronic tiredness’s impact on our sustained productivity and optimal mental well-being.

Walsh noted that sleep deprivation imposes significant economic costs annually, amounting to billions of dollars in lost productivity, and referred to a study from 2009, “Association of Insomnia with Quality of Life, Work Productivity, and Activity Impairment,” which revealed that individuals experiencing insomnia reported a 10.3% decrease in productive time due to absenteeism and presenteeism. This percentage surged to 24.2% for those dealing with a concurrent medical or mental health condition.

Furthermore, Walsh pointed to a RAND Research study, which estimated the overall economic toll of sleep deprivation on lost productivity, heightened accidents, errors, increased healthcare expenses, and more, reaching a staggering figure of up to $411 billion ($21.4 billion CDN).

Addressing societal attitudes toward sleep, Walsh remarked, “Our society tends to downplay the significance of sleep, and various excuses persist despite the tangible impact on our well-being. From phrases like ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead’ to ‘It’s just the way I am,’ we’ve normalized chronic fatigue.”

Fatigue: Is It Becoming Your New Normal?

There are times when being tired is normal; stress can be a factor creating restless nights for even good sleepers, Walsh said.

When should you be worried if your fatigue is abnormal? Some fatigue that persists for over two to four weeks and is new to you can be associated with a medical problem.

Walsh recommends asking yourself three questions to determine if you get enough sleep:
  • Do you need an alarm to wake up in the morning?
  • Do you frequently nod off during tedious, sedentary tasks like reading, driving or sitting in a meeting?
  • Do you need to sleep in on the weekends to catch up on your sleep?
If you answer yes to these questions, you may not be giving yourself enough time to sleep. Try going to bed half an hour earlier for a week at a time until you can say no.

“When people suffer from chronic sleeplessness, they get frustrated about not sleeping. They get anxious that the lack of sleep will affect their health. They’re stressed because they can’t function as well and, worse, lack the motivation to get things done,” said Walsh.

What Can Be Done?

Walsh recommended that employers offer support for their employees, such as organizing monthly wellness events or initiating challenges to motivate them to stay active—a crucial element for promoting good sleep and overall well-being. It is advisable to incorporate a regular agenda item in staff meetings dedicated to educating employees about the available benefits that contribute to optimizing their health. Plan sponsors should evaluate their current benefits plan, exploring the inclusion of wellness spending accounts to ensure employees can take advantage of alternative health providers, fitness facilities, and other non-traditional products and services.

Resolve to Prioritize Sleep

Walsh advises establishing clear boundaries for work, especially for those working remotely. This involves disabling notifications, shutting down computers, muting collaboration apps, and allocating at least 15 minutes to transition from work to family time. Prioritize self-care. Taking care of all aspects of your health and well-being is crucial. Neglecting personal needs due to overwhelming responsibilities can result in inadequate sleep and burnout, Walsh said.

To encourage sleep, Walsh suggests incorporating a relaxing evening ritual that includes turning off electronics at least one hour beforehand. Include stress-relieving pursuits like journaling or meditation. Before bed, watch anything that won’t make you nervous, like a scary movie and an engaging documentary can keep you up thinking more about what you learned. Avoid difficult discussions and duties at work. Achieving necessary sleep can be facilitated by seeking assistance from mental health counseling, nutritional coaching, sleep testing and professional advice.

Enhance sleep hygiene by creating a conducive sleep environment in your bedroom, such as using blackout blinds, adjusting nighttime temperature, removing distractions, ensuring a suitable bed size and comfort and selecting the right pillow based on your preferred sleep position.

“I spent more than 30 years searching for the answer to my chronic insomnia. Here’s what I know for sure. My life, career, relationships, mental well-being and health would’ve been so much better if I had found the cure for my insomnia sooner,” Walsh acknowledged.

Permission to reproduce granted by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans.

Tim Hennessy
Tim Hennessy is an editor at the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans. Tim is a contributor to Plans & Trusts and Publishers Weekly, among other publications. He edited the award-winning Milwaukee Noir anthology for Akashic Books and has been a freelance writer and editor for numerous publications.