A flexible work schedule may help curb sleep deficiency, health researchers have found.

"In the absence of sufficient sleep, we are not as attentive or alert, we process information more slowly, miss or misinterpret social and emotional cues, and decision making is impaired," says Orfeu M. Buxton, associate professor of bio-behavioral health at Pennsylvania State University Penn State in Pennsylvania. "For example, we may misjudge risks by undervaluing negative consequences and overvaluing potential rewards."

Buxton and colleagues researched whether a workplace intervention, designed to increase family-supportive supervision and give employees more control over their work time, improved sleep quantity and quality.

They followed 474 employees as part of a Work, Family and Health Network study conducted at an information technology company; about half of the employees serving as the control while the other half experienced the study intervention. Those participants who were assigned the intervention were encouraged to be completely flexible about when and where they would work, while still working the same number of hours as the control group.

"We showed that an intervention focused on changing the workplace culture could increase the measured amount of sleep employees obtain, as well as their perception that their sleep was more sufficient," says Buxton.

After 12 months, researchers found that employees were getting an average of eight minutes more sleep per night, which is about one hour more sleep per week. Participants also said their sleep sufficiency improved.

The researchers are planning to continue this line of study and connect future workplace interventions with personalized interventions to help employees improve their sleep.

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