Don't be a Sleepless Martyr

In this day and age, there is a growing trend among professionals that you need to do more with less. Check your email while your bagel is toasting. Make phone calls during your commute. Stay extra hours in the office to get one more report done. Companies are trimming their operating budgets and expecting their employees to do more with less. And in this tough job market, people are doing what they think is required to keep their jobs. This trait of being a sleepless martyr has become engrained in our north American society. If you leave work at a “normal” time and you’re not checking your emails and replying late into the night, you must not value your company and your job. You are clearly not working hard enough.

A Twitter search for #sleepisforlosers and #sleepisforwimps turned up thousands of results! Are we worried that people will think we aren’t productive enough if we make rest and self-care a priority? Are we worried that our employer will simply cast us aside and find someone who is more “superhuman”? Why do we think that being a walking zombie grabbing the closest coffee or energy drink is now considered a badge of honor? Sales of energy drinks are soaring year after year and there is a rash of amphetamine (“upper”) use among office workers.

I get it. We all have too much on our plates and not enough hours in the day. Work, family, exercise, and social obligations all take up our precious waking hours. Most people admit that when they need to accomplish more in the day, sleep is the first thing to get cut. Professor Russell Foster, at the University of Oxford, said

"People were getting between one and two hours less sleep a night than 60 years ago. We are the supremely arrogant species; we feel we can abandon four billion years of evolution and ignore the fact that we have evolved under a light-dark cycle. What we do as a species, perhaps uniquely, is override the clock. And long-term acting against the clock can lead to serious health problems."

No one is actually superhuman and no one can survive on a compounding lack of sleep. Humans all need sleep and lack of it can cause a variety of negative health effects including various types of cancer, obesity, diabetes, Alzheimer’s Disease, mood swings, memory loss, skin problems, gastro-intestinal upset, and more.

There was a recent incident in the news here in Calgary. A Calgary transit train operator had worked over 12 hours on his shift and didn’t think he could safely continue operating the train. He stopped the train and the passengers on board had to wait about 15 minutes while a replacement operator arrived. Reading the social media comments uncovered a disturbing trend. While there were a few commenters that commended the operator for keeping the public safe, most of the comments were from angry passengers lambasting the operator for their wait time. Or other readers jumping in calling him a “crybaby” because he couldn’t “suck it up” and finish his shift. As the director of marketing for a company that studies fatigue and helps organizations mitigate fatigue-related risk, I applaud this man for knowing his limits and putting the safety of his passengers first. He also had to make sure he could get home safely. Driving while fatigued is just as dangerous as driving while intoxicated. We can only hope this message spreads as we work to inform the public of the dangers of fatigue.

We need to take back our sleep. Prioritize your health. Tell your boss you need more time to finish the report. He may thank you that you are working on it with a clearer head. Luckily we have seen many organizations take sleep more seriously. Some companies and universities are installing “nap pods” or allowing employees to take naps and reap the benefits of a cognitive boost. I’d like to start a new social media trend, #sleepisforwinners. Who’s with me? Your body, your friends, your co-workers, and family will thank you.

SIX Safety Systems delivers fit-for-duty solutions that mitigate the risks associated with drugs, alcohol, and fatigue in the workplace. 



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