Why Sleep Care Is an Employer Matter
At the acme of hustle culture, sleep deprivation was worn like a medal. Heidi Riney, MD, and chief medical officer at sleep healthcare provider Nox Health, is happy to see the bad habit fall out of fashion. “People would brag about not getting enough sleep, that they were able to achieve so much on just four hours’ sleep.’ Other times, the boast was, ‘I got eight hours, and I can’t believe I spoiled myself.’”Burnt out and hungry for work-life balance, workers have replaced “hustle” with wellness, and though it’s less common to boast about getting little sleep, people are still doing it, and their wellbeing, inside and outside of work, is suffering.From Day One hosted Riney and her colleague, Shannon Cyr, a behavioral scientist and SVP of Nox’s sleep care telehealth services, for a recent webinar on the benefit of sleep healthcare—and why it’s a workplace matter. They discussed the connection between a lack of sleep and worsening chronic conditions, emphasizing just how important sleep hygiene is.What Happens to the Sleep-DeprivedWe cheat ourselves and our health when we don’t get enough sleep, Riney explained. Our ability to concentrate suffers, so does muscle repair and recovery, and our immune system. Short-term, lack of sleep inhibits our memory, the ability to pay attention, our appetite, and the way we metabolize food. “Sleep is a very active process where a lot of incredibly important functions happen when we sleep, a lot of restorative functions,” she said.Dr. Heidi Riney, pictured, led the webinar alongside Nox Health colleague Shannon Cyr (company photo)Sleepiness and fatigue—or that feeling of moving through mud—show up after just one night of poor sleep, “and if you have a safety-sensitive job, that can be very challenging,” Riney said.If we’re sleep deprived for long periods of time, cognition, the ability to problem-solve, and the ability to make decisions can be impaired. Riney called sleep deprivation the silent partner to chronic diseases, often increasing the risk of “type-two diabetes, chronic systemic inflammation—which has been linked to things like cancer, heart disease, hyperlipidemia, or high cholesterol—increased risk of anxiety and depression, increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.” Sleep is so important to systemic health that in 2022, the American Heart Association added sleep to its cardiovascular health checklist.“When sleep is treated adequately,” Cyr explained, “then those chronic conditions that may be present in our patient, it seems to slow the progression of that chronic disease. In some cases, it also reverses some of the symptoms of those chronic diseases.”Generally, sleep-related costs constitute just a small portion of total healthcare spend for employers, but, according to Riney and Cyr, members who have sleep disorders often cost twice as much as those without, and constitute a substantial share of total healthcare spend.“Sleep disorders represent a hidden, overlooked, but remedial gap in care,” said Riney. “They represent a significant safety, health, and productivity issue for every employer.”Changing Sleep BehaviorCyr noted that improving sleep is often a matter of behavioral change—Nox tends to use behavior modification as its first-line therapy—and the results are not only quality and quantity of sleep, she said, but also quality of life.Nox Health’s model of proactively contacting members about their quality of sleep—Are you feeling more productive? Less fatigued?—makes it easier for members to track over time changes in sleep quality.That’s especially important for patients who work in transportation, Cyr said. “We want to make sure that they’re not accident-prone, they’re not working while sleepy and while they are driving heavy machinery.”Riney noted that a patient pushing their primary care provider to talk about sleep can prompt the doctor to start asking other patients too. “You can bring it up and say ‘I don’t feel like I am sleeping at my best,’ then list two or three symptoms that you’re experiencing.” It’s not a typical topic of conversation at the annual health check-up, they said, but you can make it one.Editor’s note: From Day One thanks our partner, Nox Health, for sponsoring this webinar. Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza is a freelance journalist and From Day One contributing editor who writes about work, the job market, and women’s experiences in the workplace. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, Quartz at Work, Fast Company, and Digiday’s Worklife, among others.