Nearly one-third of American workers aren't getting enough sleep. In fact, 40 million adults get no more than six hours of sleep a night, according to Dr. Michael Breus, a specialist in sleep disorders, and that can impact how they function during the day and at work

"Sleep problems cost many tens of billions of dollars each year to the U.S. economy," he wrote at his SleepDoctor.com website."These costs accrue in several ways: missed work days, reduced productivity, higher rates of accident and injury, and greater reliance on health-care services -- more doctor and hospital visits, higher prescription and over-the-counter sleep and other medication use."

It's a problem that's hard to fix, since the reasons people don't get enough sleep can vary. Sometimes it's an inability to fall asleep, while in other cases, there simply aren't enough hours in the day for someone to work and complete their other responsibilities.

Getting enough sleep can help you perform well at work. Image source: Getty Images.

How much sleep do we need?

Needs vary by person. For most adults ages 18-64, however, the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) recommends between seven and nine hours each night. Determining where you fall in that range is fairly simple.

If you feel awake and alert after seven hours of sleep, then that is enough for you. If you're still tired after getting a full eight hours, then you likely fall at the higher end of the range.

Why is sleep important for workers?

If you're tired, you simply won't perform as well in the workplace, according to Breus. Lack of sleep can also make you less personable, irritable, and less of a leader.

"Moderate sleep deprivation impairs cognitive and motor skills as much as (or more than) alcohol intoxication," wrote Breus. "Sleep deprived, people perform as poorly as those whose blood alcohol levels render them legally too drunk to drive."

In addition, sleep problems can have a negative impact on focus, attention, memory, learning, decision-making, and creativity. Lack of sleep also increases the risk of a work accident, and it's responsible for at least 13% of work accidents along with 20% of car accidents.

What can you do?

The first thing to do is determine if you are getting enough sleep. It might make sense to keep a sleep journal where you track how much you sleep you get each night and how you feel the next day.

If you find yourself sleep deficient, then you need to figure out why. If it's because television, video games, or other distractions keep you up at night, then it's up to you to be more disciplined and turn in earlier. If you're drinking too much coffee or other caffeinated beverages too late in the day, look at switching to alternatives earlier.  

Not being able to fall asleep or not sleeping well through the night may require medical intervention. Talk with your doctor and see if natural or other remedies might work for you. In many cases, it's possible to change your sleep patterns by altering your environment and making some small changes.

If, however, you're not sleeping because you have too much to do, then it's harder to fix. A new parent, for example, can't tell his or her baby, "Be quiet, I need nine hours of sleep."

In that case, or others that involve consistently not having enough opportunity for sleep, it's best to communicate with your employer. Many bosses will be surprisingly tolerant; some employers have been very progressive in this area. Many technology companies, for example, have nap rooms. Other companies offer work flexibility that can enable employees to have a better chance to get the sleep needed to be productive.

You are in charge

Your boss won't make sure you get enough sleep, though hopefully he or she will be supportive of your needs. It's up to you to take responsibility for your sleep needs and take an active role in making sure you consistently get your seven, eight, or nine hours each night. That's going to be good for you and your employer.

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