Golden Rule Improves Sleep

By Clinton Marquardt - Sleep & Fatigue Specialist

September 26, 2018

benefits of sleep, cost of fatigue, fatigue and driving, FRMS, lifestyle management, napping, safety management, shift-work

One of the biggest hurdles I encounter is trying to get 24/7 workers to consider adapting their lifestyles to the irregularities of shift-work. “I am not going to sacrifice family time for sleep” is a constant refrain. From a logic standpoint, this position does not make any sense.  Sacrificing sleep for family time increases risks to safety both at work and at home.  What happens if Mom or Dad gets in a car accident on the way home from work because they skipped a pre-graveyard shift nap to be with the kids and were too fatigued to realize a car had stopped short on the highway?  Injury, hospitalization, disability, or worse, death?  Would the extra 2 hours of playtime in the short term be worth missing potentially a life of playtime? Same thing goes for risks to health.  Sidestepping the Sandman increases the risk of short term illnesses like colds[1] and flu and in the long term, diseases like diabetes[2]. Would the 2 extra hours of playtime be worth fighting a cold for a week or diabetes for all of the retirement years?

Logic does not always prevail. From an emotional standpoint, skipping out on sleep makes total sense. There is a lot of pleasure tied to playing with our kids and a lot of guilt for missing out on time with them while they are young. Plus, the rewards from moving family time around to accommodate sleep are too abstract. The possibility of having a car accident due to fatigue seems remote.  Most people have driven while fatigued numerous times and have never even experienced a fender-bender.  Why would this time be any different?  But all it takes is one time to change a life forever. When it comes to health, thinking about risks 20 years in the future is too far off. This means that trading a 100% certain positive now for only a risk of a negative outcome in the future is a fair trade.

When I dig a little deeper into why 24/7 workers do not adapt their lifestyles to their shift-work and prioritize sleep, they never talk about logic versus emotional decisions or a certain positive traded for a risk. What I hear most often are statements like “Why should I adjust my life to accommodate work when my employer really doesn’t care about what is going on with me outside of work?”

In some cases this may be true and sometimes an organization’s actions don’t support their words. This may be because many organizations with 24/7 operations have not caught up to the contemporary research on shift-work. The importance of work in our lives is changing with more and more people desiring work that matches their lifestyle. They want employers who support their personal lives and take action that shows they care about what goes on outside of work. What happens when employers care about their workforce’s personal lives? Worker’s sleep improves.  Contemporary shift-work research has shown that the employees of family-supportive supervisors sleep more than those without family-supportive supervisors[3]. In fact, one study showed that employees whose managers were more family-supportive slept 30 minutes more everyday than those with less family-supportive managers[4]. That is 3.5 hours extra sleep per week and a lot less sleep debt across a year.  This could mean the difference between a fatal car crash in a company vehicle due to fatigue and a safe drive.

To be family-supportive, managers need to treat their 24/7 workers the way they would like to be treated. This means caring about what is going on in their workers’ lives and making decisions that consider what is going on outside of work.  Decisions can be small, like deciding to allow a worker an extra 10 minutes to call home to check on a sick family member or large like deciding to adapt shift schedules to workers’ needs. Gestures like these seem to improve worker’s sleep. How they improve it varies. In some cases, workers feel less stressed by work and this leads to better sleep quantity and quality. But in other cases, sleep improves because workers actually do adapt their lifestyles to the challenges of shift-work for employers who demonstrate that they truly care about their workers’ personal lives.

To increase the likelihood that your 24/7 workforce will care more about getting appropriate sleep before work, and change their lives to do so, jump into their shoes and figure out how you would like to be treated in those shoes…and then, treat your workers that way.

Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. 


[1] Prather, A., Janicki-Deverts, D., Hall, M., & Cohen, S. (2015).  Behaviorally assessed sleep and susceptibility to the common cold. Sleep, 38(9), 1353-1359.

[2] See for examples:

(A) Cappuccio, F., D’Elia, L., Strazzullo, P., & Miller, M. (2010).  Quantity and quality of sleep and incidence of type 2 diabetes: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Diabetes Care, 33(2), 414-420.

(B) Knutson, K., & Van Cauter, E. (2008). Associations between sleep loss and increased risk of obesity and diabetes. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1129, 287-304.

[3] See for example:  Olson, R., Crain, T., Bodner, T., King, R., Hammer, L., Cousino Klein, L., Erickson, L., Moen, P., Berkman, L., & Buxton, O. (2015).  A workplace intervention improves sleep: Results from the randomized controlled Work, Family, and Health Study.  Sleep Health, 1, 55-65.

[4] Berkman, L., Buxton, O., Ertel, K., & Okechukwu, C. (2010).  Manager’s practices related to work-family balance predict employee cardiovascular risk and sleep duration in extended care settings. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 115(3), 316-329.

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