03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Sleep Challenge: Launch It With Your Team At Work, Including Your Boss

American women are sleep-deprived, and paying a heavy price for it. So on these pages, Arianna Huffington and Cindi Leive just launched a sleep challenge: get a full night's sleep every night for a month. We applaud Arianna and Cindi's call to action - but we have a suggestion: How about launching a sleep challenge to your team at work -- including your boss? Sound impossible -- why would our bosses want us to sleep more? Maybe they would if they knew that our company's bottom line could be the better for it.

Poor sleep is hurting U.S. businesses. Since 2002, Families and Work Institute's National Study of the Changing Workforce (NSCW) has asked employees directly about how often in the last month they have experienced sleep problems that affect their job performance. The latest data from a nationally representative sample that includes thousands of American employees find that 27 percent have experienced sleep problems that affect their job performance in the last month "at least sometimes," and nine percnt report having sleep problems "often" or "fairly often."

The 2008 NSCW also probes the nature of employees' sleep problems. We find that two-thirds (66 percent) of US employees report having had trouble falling asleep at some point in the last month. Nearly one-third (31 percent) of employees report awakening too soon and having trouble going back to sleep "very often" or "fairly often," with another 27 percent reporting "sometimes" having trouble. This means almost 60 percent of employees surveyed wake up too soon! In fact, only about one in five (21 percent) employees has never experienced awakening too soon in the last month. Women have more sleep problems than men. And not surprisingly, stress levels among have increased significantly since 2002.

But it's not just our insistence that we stay up for the Daily Show that keeps U.S. employees sleep-deprived. It's the very real stress of having work lives without the flexibility to manage our family commitments, huge economic uncertainty and a pervasive lack of a sense of control over our work life and work tasks. Our data show some of these stresses are increasing.

Arianna and Cindi note that women's sleep deprivation is often "fueled by the mistaken idea that getting enough sleep means you must be lazy or less than passionate about your work and your life." But our data show that employees who report greater "work-life fit" -- and this includes having schedule flexibility and supervisors and coworkers who are supportive when personal or family needs arise -- have fewer sleep problems, less stress, and greater general wellbeing.

Helping employees successfully manage their work and personal or family lives -- for example by providing access to flexible work arrangements, paid vacation and sick days -- not only reduces employees' stress levels and improves overall health and sleep, but also benefits employers. Importantly, employees with greater levels of work-life fit and access to flexible work arrangements are more likely to be engaged and satisfied with their jobs and less likely to turnover.

So if you're taking the sleep challenge, you might want to suggest to your boss that he or she joins in.