Many Grouchy, Error-Prone Workers Just Need More Sleep : Shots - Health News Sleep researchers say about 30 percent of employees at big firms are so tired they're making as many mistakes as if they were coming to work drunk. Some offices now have "napping pods."
NPR logo

Many Grouchy, Error-Prone Workers Just Need More Sleep

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Many Grouchy, Error-Prone Workers Just Need More Sleep

Many Grouchy, Error-Prone Workers Just Need More Sleep

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


This next story requires no introduction for our hours 24-hour staff. Workers and their employers are paying a price for losing sleep. NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports.

YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: Any number of surveys will tell you a good number of us clock in already pooped. A survey by Accountemps, an accounting services firm, found a third of office workers routinely show up to work tired. Bill Driscoll, Accountemps' regional president, says some accountants blamed sleep for some big mistakes.

BILL DRISCOLL: One person deleted a project that took a thousand hours to put together. Another person missed a decimal point on an estimated payment and the client overpaid by a million dollars.

NOGUCHI: William David Brown is a doctor who studies sleep. He says Americans sacrifice more sleep every year, and fatigue is cumulative. Missing the equivalent of one night's sleep is like having a blood alcohol level that's above the legal limit to drive.

KRISTI BROWN: About a third of your employees in any big company are coming to work with an equivalent impairment level of being intoxicated.

NOGUCHI: Lack of sleep affects brain function, memory, heart health and makes people prone to depression and diabetes.

BROWN: When I say it touches every aspect of our functioning, I think that's true.

NOGUCHI: Brown says insomniacs are twice as likely to miss work. And not surprisingly, are mistakes happening, mostly during hours in the circadian cycle when humans tend to be the most tired - midnight to early morning and in midafternoon. Consequences can be to lethal - to use one Harvard study of medical residences as an example.

BROWN: One in 20 will admit to a sleep-deprived error in judgment that resulted in death of a patient.

NOGUCHI: Sleep-deprivation accidents are something the American Trucking Association is well aware of. Association Vice President Dave Osiecki says regulators impose daily and weekly driving limits on truckers.

DAVE OSIECKI: Even more important than limiting work time is the quality of sleep, the length of sleep. And you can't regulate that.

NOGUCHI: Osiecki says some companies started testing drivers for sleep apnea and treating those who repeatedly stop breathing for sure periods while sleeping. For some, sleep and work can get into a bad cycle where they negatively affect each other - take a Ari Koelle-Pittel, a senior at Drexel University.

ARI KOELLE-PITTEL: I'm definitely pretty stressed, and it's difficult to sleep. You know, sometimes I even have dreams where I'm just, like, thinking about things that I have to do the next day. And it feels like I haven't slept at all when I wake up.

NOGUCHI: Once in a windowless warm room, where she works writing as a tutor, she conked out before she knew it.

KOELLE-PITTEL: I was completely out. I was right, like, up at the front desk. And I was pretty much the first thing that anyone could see when they walked in.

NOGUCHI: Koelle-Pittel says for her, the more common problem is with focus.

KOELLE-PITTEL: There are times when I just - like, I've blanked out in the middle of a sentence where I was trying to explain a concept and I had to stop and say all right, we need to go back. I'm so sorry.

NOGUCHI: Plus, people aren't very nice on little sleep. Mike Grandinetti worked in a Silicon Valley startup where the boss routinely demanded all-nighters. Grandinetti, who now works at a different firm, says the 24-7 approach backfired. People missed market signals, tanked deals, and the whole venture became so unpleasant because people were so doggone tired.

MIKE GRANDINETTI: Employees wind up becoming irritable. They are less likely to socialize with one another outside of work, which is really critical when building relationships.

NOGUCHI: If there's a growing crisis at the nexus of sleep and work, he says, work culture needs to change. Christopher Lindholst agrees. He's CEO with the upstart firm MetroNaps, which started selling napping pods that look like recliners that cocoon the napper's head. Lindholst says sales are increasing.

CHRISTOPHER LINDHOLST: A short nap actually boosts productivity, and companies have woken up to that.

NOGUCHI: Pun naturally intended. Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington.

Copyright © 2016 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.