We’ve all been tired at work before. It’s not a good feeling. For many of us, this doesn’t happen very often, but imagine waking up tired every day.  People suffering from Sleep Apnea are awakening unrefreshed and fatigued every morning, leading to a cycle of stress, anxiety and depression.  It is proven that sleep apnea diminishes concentration and the ability to think clearly, which has an adverse effect on a person’s work performance. The relationship between sleep apnea and work performance is an issue that needs to be resolved as soon as possible.

business men shaking handsThere are 3 types of Sleep Apnea:

  1. Obstructive – when your airway becomes obstructed by either the soft tissue in your throat or by your tongue falling backwards
  2. Central – when there is a disruption in communication between your brain and your respiratory system (Common among those who have sustained a traumatic brain injury)
  3. Mixed – a combination of the above two types of Sleep Apnea

If you are experiencing any of the above, there are a variety of symptoms that can occur as a result.  All of these symptoms could potentially put you (or someone else) at risk while at work.
Fatigue, for instance, is extremely common among those suffering from Sleep Apnea.  The body is reacting to prolonged physical and/or mental stress. If your body is struggling to keep you breathing throughout the night, it is going to be tired in the morning.  The whole system has overexerted itself and is bound to be exhausted by the time you are supposed to get up and go to work. Fatigue can cause a person to become withdrawn, irrational and sometimes even angry. Approximately 45% of the US working population reports having sleep problems, which in turn leads to a higher number of accidents in the workplace.
Stress is another factor, and I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have some sort of stress in their life.  There are different types of stress – acute and chronic.  Acute stress is short-term stress, like the feeling you get from cramming for a test. If you suffer from episodic acute stress, you have this feeling constantly.  Chronic stress is the long-term, debilitating stress.  Any of these have the ability to impair a person’s intellectual reactions and decision making skills.  Studies show that decisions made in a stressed state show poor judgement and can result in accidents and errors. Stress resulting from fatigue can be somewhat sneaky. Usually people think that they acclimate to stress, when in reality the stress has just been accumulating the whole time and then damages rational thought processes.
FACT: Stress-related accidents including those associated with sleepiness and fatigue account for 60-80% of total reported accidents.

Sleeping 6 hours or less per night also increases your risk for depression, and about 30% of people sleep less than 6 hours per night. It’s a vicious cycle that wears a person down over time.

Becoming complacent in the workplace can stem from depression, low energy levels and fatigue. Workers can become almost unaware of their surroundings and have a false sense of reality. In this mindset, they are less likely to react accordingly to a situation requiring their immediate attention. It is recommended that employees take needed breaks and have a sufficient lunch time so that they do not become overworked and overwhelmed. Some people who are not getting the appropriate amount of sleep may even use these break times as nap times so that they feel more refreshed while on the job.
Yet another symptom of sleep deprivation is lack of awareness.  In order for the brain to create awareness, it must be restored on a daily basis.  Poor sleep can drastically weaken the brain’s ability to become aware, thus impairing a person’s ability to make proper decisions. Studies show that the effect of fatigue on the brain can be just as detrimental as alcohol.

The Impact of Sleep on Safety’s Dirty Dozen
Published on August 10, 2016

Sleep Loss and Fatigue in Shift Work and Shift Work Disorder
Sleep Med Clin. 2009 Jun 1; 4(2): 257–271

Sleep and Anxiety Disorders
Dialogues Clin Neurosci. 2003 Sep; 5(3): 249–258
Studies Find New Links between Sleep Duration and Depression
AASM Journal 2014 Jan