The quality of sleep, more than the quantity, has a lot to do with save behaviors in the workplace, according to Colorado State University (CSU) researchers who studied the relationship between the two as it applied to Portland-area construction workers.

The research, which was part of an Oregon Healthy Workforce study, compared the workers’ self-reported sleep patterns with reports of safety behavior and workplace injuries. It was co-authored by Rebecca Brossoit, a Ph.D. student in Industrial-Organizational Psychology at CSU, and trainee in Occupational Health Psychology through the Mountain and Plains Education and Research Center; Tori Crain, assistant professor in CSU’s Department of Psychology and Jordyn Leslie, former CSU undergraduate and current research assistant in Crain’s lab; with collaborators at Oregon Health and Science University, Portland State University and University of Limerick.

The study found that construction workers who reported more insomnia symptoms experienced more on-the-job “workplace cognitive failures:” lapses in attention, memory or action. A reduction in safety behaviors and related minor injuries were also linked to poor sleep quality.

Brossoit said cognitive failures could take the form of forgetting correct work procedures or whether equipment had been turned off; unintentionally pressing a control switch on a machine; or accidentally starting or stopping the wrong machine.

Workers who described a failure to regularly achieve “sleep sufficiency” - feeling well-rested upon awakening – had a lower safety compliance, but did not necessarily have cognitive failures.

Another finding: sleep quantity was not related to any safety outcomes examined. In other words, in this study sleep quality was more important than quantity for predicting workplace safety, Brossoit explained.

The paper was co-authored by Leslie Hammer, professor in the Department of Psychology at Portland State University and professor at Oregon Health and Science University; Donald Truxillo, professor in the Department of Psychology at Portland State University and professor in the Department of Work and Employment Studies at the University of Limerick; and Todd Bodner, professor in the Department of Psychology at Portland State University.

The Oregon Healthy Workforce Center (OHWC) is a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Total Worker Health® Center of Excellence.

The study appeared in Journal of Occupational Health Psychology.