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Sleep Apnea Adversely Affects Your Job Performance and Health

Sleep Apnea Adversely Affects Your Job Performance and Health

Start a management degree at American Public University.

By Dr. Marie Gould Harper
Program Director, Management at American Public University

In 2014, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the average American male slept 8.69 hours in a 24-hour period, while the average American female slept 8.90 hours.

“While both averages surpass the recommended eight hours for adults, recent studies indicate that the vast majority of people are sleeping far less than these averages and not getting enough sleep to maintain optimal health and peak productivity,” according to a 2005 article by Vicki Bell in the Fabricator.com.

Have you ever had some employees who did not seem alert in the afternoon or moved slower than their peers? It may not be a performance issue. Instead, those workers could be suffering from a physical problem.

Sleep Apnea Is Increasing, But Symptoms Often Go Unrecognized

Sleep apnea is on the rise. However, some people who have the symptoms don’t recognize them as a health concern. Sleep apnea is a chronic disorder characterized by snoring, pauses in breathing during sleep, and moderate to severe daytime sleepiness.

During the past two to three years, I have known a number of family, friends and co-workers who suffered the symptoms of sleep apnea and sought treatment for this illness. Also, I suffered some of the symptoms and knew exactly what I needed to do in order to get my sleep apnea under control.

After I changed my diet and made sure to incorporate a regular exercise regimen, I started to feel better. As a result, episodes of falling asleep mid-sentence were minimized.

As Bell writes, “The National Sleep Foundation’s 2005 Sleep in America Poll showed that, overall, U.S. adults are sleeping an average 6.9 hours a night, including both weekday and weekend sleep. Forty percent reported sleeping less than seven hours on weekdays, and 71 percent are sleeping less than eight hours on weekdays. The number of hours spent sleeping on both weekdays and weekends is trending downward.”

Why Is Sleep Apnea on the Rise?

Several doctors shared their thoughts about why sleep apnea is rising on the Everyday Health blog.

David O. Volpi, M.D., FACS, a founder of eos Sleep NY, believes that more people are experiencing sleep apnea because our general population is struggling with obesity. There appears to be a correlation between the two challenges. He says, “Sleep apnea can lead to hypertension, arrhythmia and other issues of the heart, such as increased blood pressure, lung dysfunction and stroke. It is a very serious condition that needs medical attention.”

William Dement, M.D., Ph.D., says, “The major danger of sleep apnea is that you are waking up to breathe, which causes severe daytime impairment. The other danger is the development of cardiovascular disease such as high blood pressure and then heart attack.”

Dr. Conrad Iber of the Minnesota Regional Sleep Disorders Center warns that “Sleep apnea causes safety issues and health issues and can reduce your quality of life. Patients with sleep apnea are much more likely to make mistakes or fall asleep driving, and some are more likely to have cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and may die at an earlier age.”

How Does Sleep Apnea Affect the Workplace?

Sleep deprivation caused by sleep apnea often is cited as a primary or secondary cause of industrial and motor vehicle accidents. It also has been cited as a reason for unscheduled absenteeism, which was at a five-year high when Bell wrote her article.

Without adequate sleep, employees have more difficulty concentrating, learning and communicating. Also, memory lapses increase and problem-solving abilities decline.

Sleep-deprived employees can be moody and less tolerant of co-workers’ differing opinions, making them more prone to reactionary outbursts and other relationship-destroying behaviors. Relationship problems at work affect the entire organization and contribute to inefficiency and job dissatisfaction.

“Combine sleep problems, added stress, and the anxiety sleep deprivation sufferers feel as they approach bedtime—will I have trouble falling asleep; will I sleep through the night; will I get enough sleep—and the situation can appear hopeless. It’s not. Once diagnosed, most sleep disorders can be corrected,” Bell says.

I am hopeful that my situation will be corrected, and my doctor has seen promising results. The process of change was easy.

I was following healthy habits, but I had become lax about maintaining them. For example, I attend yoga classes three to four times a week, eat the proper combinations of food and walk four to five days a week.

Are You a Victim of Sleep Apnea?

Take a few moments to answer Bell’s questions to determine if you are getting enough sleep:

  • Do you often watch the late show because you can’t fall asleep? Or do you frequently wake up during the night and can’t go back to sleep?
  • Are you often cranky? Or do you have trouble thinking at work?
  • Are you experiencing a lot of stress in your life?
  • Do you snore?
  • Are you sleepy during the day?
  • Are you overweight?
  • Do you wake up with morning headaches?
  • Do you have high blood pressure?
  • Do you find it hard to stay awake while driving, watching TV, reading a book or attending a meeting?
  • Do you ever wake up choking, gasping for air, or have a skipping or rapid heartbeat during the night?
  • Has anyone watched you sleep and told you that you hold your breath, snort and often move during sleep?

How to Prevent Sleep Apnea and Sleep Deprivation

The National Sleep Foundation suggests that you:

  • Maintain a regular bed and wake time schedule, including weekends.
  • Establish a regular, relaxing bedtime routine, such as soaking in a hot bath or hot tub. Then, read a book or listen to soothing music.
  • Create a sleep-conducive environment that is dark, quiet, comfortable and cool.
  • Sleep on a comfortable, supportive mattress and comfortable pillows. Make sure they are allergen-free.
  • Use your bedroom only for sleep and sex. Once I moved my office from the level where my bedroom was located, my sleep pattern improved.
  • Finish eating at least two to three hours before your regular bedtime. If possible, allow your last meal to be around 6:00 p.m.
  • Exercise regularly. It is best to complete your workout at least a few hours before bedtime. I have found yoga to be the perfect exercise.
  • Avoid caffeine — coffee, tea, soft drinks, chocolate — close to bedtime.
  • Avoid nicotine — cigarettes and other tobacco products — close to bedtime.
  • Avoid alcohol close to bedtime. Although many people think of alcohol as a sedative, it actually disrupts sleep, causing nighttime awakenings.

Finally, consult a doctor. You can seek out an organization such as those cited above or contact your local respiratory or sleep medicine specialist. You can improve your overall quality of life and performance; poor sleep can be a matter of life or death.

Start a management degree at American Public University.

About the Author

Dr. Marie Gould Harper is the Program Director of Management at American Public University. She holds an undergraduate degree in psychology from Wellesley College, a master’s degree in instructional systems from Pennsylvania State University and a doctorate in business from Capella University. She is a progressive coach, facilitator, writer, strategist and human resources/organizational development professional with more than 30 years of leadership, project management, and administrative experience. Dr. Gould Harper has worked in both corporate and academic environments.

Dr. Gould Harper is an innovative thinker and strong leader, manifesting people skills, a methodical approach to problems, organizational vision and ability to inspire followers. She is committed to continuous improvement in organizational effectiveness and human capital development, customer service and the development of future leaders.