Look to your left, look to your right, because one of you is not getting sufficient sleep. That’s the grim statistic released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in February 2016. More than a third of adults in the United States aren’t getting enough sleep on a regular basis, the CDC found, with the prevalence of healthy sleep durations ranging from 56% in Hawaii to 72% in South Dakota.
In its press release, the CDC also offered some healthy sleep tips. I appreciated that the tips addressed three different stakeholders: individuals, employers, and healthcare providers. And this shared responsibility is what I want to address here. Of course, individual accountability is imperative. For example, good sleep hygiene should be practiced and individuals should seek medical attention if a sleep disorder is suspected. But when a third of the adult population in a country isn’t getting enough sleep, we can’t ignore the shared onus on all of us: Employers and healthcare professionals must stop passing the buck on sleep, especially because the consequences of inaction affect everyone.
Some employers are waking up to their role in encouraging employees to get sufficient sleep. Sleep Review editorial advisory board member Pamela Minkley, RRT, CPFT, RPSGT, told me of an employer she worked with that implemented a fatigue management program that allowed shift workers to assess their sleepiness, and, after a certain number of hours working, actually had them stay in a hotel to allow for time for sleep before driving home. The program also included counseling and education on sleep. Though such a program has a large financial cost, it also has significant benefits ranging from worker safety to an increased likelihood that employees will be fit for duty for their next shift. Other employers are implementing e-mail blackouts after-hours or adding nap rooms to their offices. (Listen to our podcast “Napping at Work” for more information on mixing business and slumber.) Employee education on sleep—what’s healthy and what’s not—is a key part of any workplace fatigue management program.
And employee education, as well as educating the public in general, is where healthcare professionals come in. As the people who see the negative consequences of insufficient sleep firsthand, it is healthcare providers’ duty to spread the word about sleep as a biologic necessity. It is also important for providers with sleep medicine expertise to educate and partner with other healthcare professionals to increase screening for sleep disorders and to advocate for appropriate treatments. We also must push for increased sleep medicine education in medical schools, residencies, and fellowships. A step in the right direction is a forthcoming paper that details how the American College of Chest Physicians, American Thoracic Society, and the Association of Pulmonary and Critical Care Program directors have undertaken a project to help establish the scope of sleep medicine education that is optimum for inclusion in pulmonary fellowship training programs (see this issue’s cover story for more details).
Separately, we can make positive changes but only in a limited way. Together, we can conquer the lack of sufficient sleep health epidemic.
Sree Roy is editor of Sleep Review.