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Snooze Alarms and Aids

Learn how difficulty sleeping can impact work satisfaction and productivity. Find out when to seek professional help.

It’s midnight, but you’re almost done with your to-do list. It might sound like a good idea to stay up a few more hours, but sacrificing sleep ultimately makes you less effective at work. We spoke to Tony Masri, MD, medical director of the Sleep Disorders Program, to find out how sleep affects our working lives.

What problems does poor sleep cause at work?

Many. Take obstructive sleep apnea [OSA], for example, which affects about one of four U.S. adults. It is characterized by obstruction of the upper airway during sleep and periods of breathing cessation. Left untreated, OSA has been linked to less productivity and more absenteeism at work. Treating sleep apnea can reduce absenteeism from 16.6 percent to 7 percent, can improve productivity from 63.8 percent to 83.2 percent, and can improve work satisfaction, according to a Spanish study. Interestingly, overall mental outlook can also be affected by sleep. Studies show that more than 36 percent of patients with major depression have sleep apnea. Experts aren’t exactly sure how the two are connected, but treating the condition improves the depression, according to research in the journal Sleep and elsewhere.

People have become increasingly reliant on their devices, with many now sleeping with their smartphone. How does this affect sleep?

Things like smartphones play a big role. Intermittent interruptions like getting alerts — even if they don’t wake you — can prevent you from going into deeper stages of sleep and getting quality sleep.

Stress can keep people awake, which results in more stress from sleep deprivation. How can someone break that cycle?

Try not to bring concerns about work to bed. At least a couple of hours before bedtime, stop checking work-related emails. Create a wind-down routine so your body is ready to fall asleep. It can be meditation or some other way to relax.

When should someone seek professional help for sleep problems?

If you try general interventions [as described above] and you still have problems sleeping, seek help. If you sleep longer and still wake up tired, wake up with a dry mouth, or get sleepy while driving, those are signs that you’re not getting quality sleep. All sleep disorders are treatable, whether it’s insomnia, sleep apnea, or restless legs syndrome. The sleep specialist’s job is to go through the different screening tools and offer solutions, which can be medication, devices, or sometimes surgery. Sleep is essential. It’s not a luxury.

This article first appeared in the Summer 2016 edition of the El Camino Hospital Health Beat magazine.