A peek behind the science and health impact of sleep

StayWell Blog, StayWell News

My mother always used to tell us to get 8 hours of sleep each night. After all, getting 8 hours of sleep a night has long been the gold standard and a core element of a healthy lifestyle.

But, in case you don’t prescribe to the “Mother knows best” philosophy, consider the National Sleep Foundation’s recommendation that adults age 18-64 should get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep. On top of that, using a cool tool by the U.S. Naval Observatory, you can look up the average duration of darkness in a town near you. Key West, Florida, at the extreme south of the U.S., averages about 11 hours 50 minutes of darkness. Barrow, Alaska, is a bit shorter, on average, at 11 hours 26 minutes because in Barrow there are over two months during the year in which the sun never completely sets. In other words, humans evolved in an environment that encourages 8 hours of sleep. Perhaps more.

But if the aforementioned motherly, scientific, and evolutionary evidence doesn’t convince you, here are a few more stats about sleep and your health to consider.

Sleep and health risk factors
Data from 576,894 StayWell health risk assessments show that people who consistently log fewer hours of sleep report a higher number of health risks.





There’s also a correlation between sleep and self-reported health. The chart below shows the percent of people that report “excellent” or “very good” health from various reported hours of sleep.

So, that’s sleep quantity, or the amount of time a person is asleep. But, what about sleep quality? Surely, some people need less sleep than others, and are still able to stave off health risks, right? Well, yes, but on average, a person who reports frequently feeling tired also has more health risks. Such is the case with the employer group shown in the How often do you feel tired? chart, clearly illustrating that the group’s average number of risks is associated with how often they report feeling tired.

Now, it’s entirely possible that an individual can get too little sleep, for instance, and still keep health risks at bay; however, typically that’s not the case. Based on our many years of research at StayWell, we’ve found that when sufficient sleep quantity and sleep quality aren’t achieved, it manifests itself in many negative ways, including:

  • Inadequate physical activity
  • Poor nutrition
  • Increased stress
  • Difficulty managing weight
  • Heightened risk for depression

When combined or multiplied these health issues can result in decreased performance at work and higher health care costs for individuals and employers. Check out “When counting sheep doesn’t work” blog in the sleep series for details on the relationship between sleep and productivity, which might interest leaders in your organization.

Sleep and workplace health
It’s no surprise that employers are beginning to take note of the important role sleep plays in the workplace and employee productivity. StayWell recently released a new well-being solution called StayWell Sleep leaning series, which is designed to help employers support improved sleep quality and quantity for employees.

The Sleep learning series is designed to improve employee performance as sleep habits change, to increase employee health and satisfaction, and to increase employee engagement in their day-to-day work. The Sleep modules focus on:

  • Sleep and your health,
  • Sleep-weight connection,
  • Napping, and
  • Sleep tracking.

Participants receive educational articles, videos and resources that increase awareness of healthy sleep habits. The learning series will help individuals implement healthy sleep patterns that can reduce risks associated with poor sleep, while providing education to use and leverage sleep-tracking devices and to understand their sleep habits.

Stay tuned for future blogs on the benefits of sleep and how it affects health, but in the meantime, contact engage@staywell.com to learn more and to discover how you can use StayWell Sleep learning series in your workplace.

In good health,

Stefan Gingerich, MS
StayWell Senior Research Analyst