Who Needs Sleep? You Do.

January 27, 2016 Steven Laird

Anyone who’s had a newborn baby knows what it’s like: that hazy fog clouding your sleep-deprived brain and how it affects your day-to-day functioning. You frequently lose your train of thought and misplace common words. You enter a room and forget why you were going there in the first place. Your concentration and focus narrows: while you used to read the entire newspaper, now you can barely process the headlines. You become more emotional or irritable, easily moved to anger or tears with little provocation.

For new parents, sleep deprivation is a challenging but temporary state. But they’re not the only people who aren’t getting enough Z’s—and it’s having a significant impact on the workplace. Lack of sleep costs U.S. companies $63 billion a year in lost productivity, according to a September 2011 study. 

Drunk or Just Tired?

In a July 2015 National Post article, neuroscientist Professor Russell Foster of the University of Oxford explains how the U.K.’s early riser culture means people are making decisions with brain skills so impaired, it’s as if they’re intoxicated.

“We see this too much with really senior people,” he explains. “Lack of sleep damages a whole host of skills—empathy, processing information, ability to handle people, but right at the top of the chain you get overly impulsive, impaired thinking, because of this problem.”

It’s not just the academic community that thinks this way. Media juggernaut Arianna Huffington, for one, has become a vocal advocate of the benefits of sleep. And with good reason: a July 2015 Parade/HuffPost poll of 15,000 people found more than a third of respondents are getting five hours of sleep or less per night.

Here are four tips for employers to help their employees get enough sleep and stay productive.

  1. Power off at night – In a business world ruled by mobile devices, it’s getting harder and harder to disconnect in the evening. Yet a 2013 study at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute found just two hours of iPad use at maximum brightness will suppress the release of melatonin, making it harder for people to fall asleep. If your employees feel they need to be on call 24/7, they won’t have the necessary downtime to ease them into a restful sleep and may not sleep as deeply.
  2. Take a nap…at work – It sounds like the punchline to a lame joke—be more productive by sleeping on the job!—but it’s a growing trend. Companies such as Uber, Google and PricewaterhouseCoopers have “nap pods” on site where tired employees can recharge. The National Sleep Foundation recommends a 20- to 30-minute nap to improve short-term alertness and performance.
  3. Avoid sleepwalking – As a manager, if you see an employee who is so exhausted he can’t function properly, gently suggest he go home and rest up. That’s what you’d do if he were ill, right? If it means using sick time, so be it. It’s better than risking the alternative: impaired judgment leading to bad decisions or serious errors.
  4. Teach good sleep habits – Organizations such as the National Sleep Foundation, the American Sleep Foundation and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention all have sleep resources available on their websites. Some employers, like the City of Calgary, are going a step further by targeting poor sleep habits through wellness programming, sleep campaigns and access to a sleep specialist for personalized advice.

Now if you’ll excuse me…yawn…I need a power nap.

About the Author

Biography

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