Giving employees flexible work hours help curb sleep deficiency and improve overall health, researchers report.
"In the absence of sufficient sleep, we are not as attentive or alert, process information more slowly, miss or misinterpret social and emotional cues and decision making is impaired," said Orfeu M. Buxton, associate professor of biobehavioral health at Pennsylvania State University.
For example, we may misjudge risks by undervaluing negative consequences and overvaluing potential rewards, he added.
Buxton and colleagues looked to see if a workplace intervention, designed to increase family-supportive supervision and give employees more control over their work time, improved sleep quantity and quality.
The researchers followed 474 employees, with nearly half of the employees serving as the control while the other half experienced the study intervention.
The intervention was designed to reduce conflicts between work and personal life and focused on two main cultural shifts: allowing employees to decide on when and where they worked and training supervisors to support their employees' personal lives.
Those who were assigned to the intervention were encouraged to be completely flexible about when and where they would work - at the office, from home or elsewhere - while still working the same number of hours as the control group.
Six months after the program began, the researchers observed work-related variables that they hoped to change with the intervention.
A year after the intervention, Buxton and colleagues followed up to observe outcomes, including changes in the amount and quality of sleep employees were getting.
"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," Buxton added.
At 12 months, the researchers found that employees who participated in the intervention experienced an average of eight minutes more sleep per night, which is nearly an hour more sleep per week.
"Work can be a calling and inspirational but it should not be detrimental to health," Buxton noted.
The results were published in the journal Sleep Health.