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Better sleep makes better workers

We are sleepless. Not just in Seattle, but also in Gresham, Portland, Troutdale and beyond. A tsunami of sleeplessness is washing over the country and becoming an increasing concern for employers who recognize that weary workers are not as creative, careful or patient as they need to be.

“Our mood the next day is profoundly affected” after a poor night’s sleep, said Dr. Beenish Khwaja, a board-certified neurologist and psychiatrist and sleep expert at Legacy Mount Hood Medical Center in Gresham.

One in three Americans doesn’t get enough sleep, according to a study recently released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC says adults need seven to eight hours of sleep per night and teens two hours more than that.

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: LEGACY MOUNT HOOD MEDICAL CENTER - Dr. Bennish Khwaja, Legacy Mount Hood Medical Center, advises using all five senses for a better nights sleep. Sleep deprivation can cause accidents at work, on the road and at home. Lack of sleep disrupts the ability to learn, think, make good decisions and solve problems. It impairs judgement and makes people grumpy. “Perceptions are more negative — both thoughts and emotions,” Khwaja said.

Lack of sleep can cause serious health issues such as heart disease, obesity, diabetes and depression, which boosts companies’ health-related expenses, Khwaja said.

“Sleep management is also an important organizational topic that requires specific and urgent attention,” the consulting firm McKinsey & Co. noted in a recent article. One study found fatigue-related productivity losses alone cost companies $1,967 for each employee every year.

As a result, many employers are thinking — and acting — on the issue. Boeing includes links to articles on managing sleep as part of the corporate culture section of its web page. A big human resources conference in Chicago in May will feature a speaker on how to offer specific solutions to help employees harness the power of sleep to improve employee health.

To get a better night’s sleep, Khwaja advises marshaling all five senses to the task: taste, smell, touch, hearing and sight.

For taste, she advises not to eat heavy, high fat or spicy meals before bed.

Avoid alcohol, which may make falling asleep easier, but causes more awakening as the night goes on. For smell, “lavender scents lower blood pressure” and are relaxing, she said.

Even touch is important.

“Invest in better bedding,” she said.

Having a good quality mattress, sheets and pillows is important. The temperature of the room should be cool — between 60 and 67 degrees is usually best.

For the sense of hearing, keep the sleeping room as quiet as possible. White noise machines work well for some people.

Try to address the disruption if you have a snoring partner.

In the sight department, for best sleep, the room should be dark. Avoid screens — televisions, computers, cellphones — that emit “blue” light, for several hours before bed, Khwaja said.

Exercise — about 20 to 30 minutes per day — also helps sleep, although don’t exercise two to three hours before bedtime, Khwaja advised.

Try to keep bedtime and wake up time predictable, within about a 30-minute window per day.

“We try to tell people to keep their sleep schedule pretty consistent,” she said. Try for a relaxing bedtime ritual, some reading or other quiet activity.

Also, naps should best be avoided. Naps can create a vicious cycle, making it harder for you to fall asleep at night.

Khwaja admits she has trouble sleeping occasionally and tries to put her guidelines to work for herself, but admits that sometimes “it is easier to preach than put into action.”

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