Dr. Oz: Why it’s crucial that businesses make sure their employees get enough sleep

Dr. Oz on the Today Show
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Dr. Oz on the Today Show

As a young surgeon, I learned quickly to adapt to long periods of little sleep. Residency was a relentless rollercoaster of multi-day shifts, inconsistent schedules and overnights in the operating room. If a patient came in at 3 a.m. with an aortic aneurysm, I needed to be alert and ready to operate. If we received a call that a donor's heart and lungs were on the way, it required the discipline to dig deep for mental focus and the energy to help my patient whose life relied on the donated organs.

Sleep was a luxury and a reward for being a dedicated surgeon. Fortunately, the human body, especially when it's young, is incredibly good at adapting to unhealthy behaviors. However, even then, I could feel the impact not sleeping was having on all areas of my health. With sleep now universally accepted as one of the pillars of health along with diet and exercise, I've been dedicating more and more time to emphasizing the importance of sleep and its impact on our health.

Quite simply, not sleeping enough can kill us.

On the "Dr. Oz Show," we cover health topics that have wide appeal: weight loss, anti-aging tips, the importance of fitness and diet. While these topics are important to my audience, our research has shown that one issue experienced by nearly everyone at one time or another is fatigue and tiredness – and few people know what to do about it.

This nationwide (and global) tiredness dramatically affects so many areas of our life from work performance to safe driving, our overall wellness and even our relationships with colleagues and family. More concerning, life or death health problems like obesity and heart health are directly related to sleep.

There's no way to deny it: Sleep is one of the most important (yet least understood) health issues facing the nation.

Now we're learning that beyond the well-documented health issues, sleep has an acute and measurable impact on productivity in our country. In fact, it's an economic liability. According to SleepScore Labs user data, sleep debt increased by 68 billion hours since January 2017. This has led to an annual loss of more than 12 million work hours and a cost to the economy of more than $506 billion.

On top of that, people who only get five hours or less sleep each night take 14 sick days per year on average. If that's not incentive for employers to start thinking about how they address sleep as part of their wellness and health plan for employees, I don't know what is.

Getting to the root of sleep improvement is tricky since no two sleepers are the same and endless variables play a part in determining how well we sleep. Medications, our weight, our partners, nutrition and even bedroom elements such as temperature, light and sound factor into how well we sleep at night.

Some of these variables are out of our control, but many are things we can change if we know where to act and what actions to take. The good news is that we now have tools to measure the comprehensive pathology of our sleep without a prescriptive clinical study. Plus, it's possible to receive recommendations via technology that could vastly improve the way we sleep.

With the availability of information and the increasing awareness of technology available to track and measure sleep, I'm pleased to say a shift in mindset about sleep is finally starting to happen. People are more aware that sleep has a massive impact on our overall health and are looking for ways to improve their sleep that goes beyond a pill.

Now, we need that same shift to happen with employers and business leaders. Businesses are just starting to understand the impact sleep is having on their workforce. As proactive steps towards helping employees manage their sleep continues to grow, healthcare costs will be reduced, productivity will go up and families should better enjoy their time spent together outside of work.

I've been in the midst of our national conversation on health since I started my show 10 years now. I've seen hearts, minds and habits change on so many things – largely for the better. People don't change because of what they know or what we tell them. They change based on how they feel.

American workers are tired, and it's proven that when they sleep better, they work better.

So I ask you: Isn't it time for businesses to consider looking deeper into sleep improvement ideas for their employees too?

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Dr. Oz is the co-founder of SleepScore Labs, Emmy-winning host of "The Dr. Oz Show," best-selling author and Professor of Surgery at Columbia University.