Perspectives

Business case for sleep, at home and at work

The myth is that high achievers don’t need sleep; the fact is that it leads to lower productivity

By Sarah Moe
Monday, May 23, 2016

A friend of mine works for an international real estate company. She recently told me about an intense negotiation she had with a group of Japanese businessmen. After laborious hours of negotiations, a bell chimed and the interpreter informed her that her Japanese counterparts would be taking a 15-minute power nap per their company policy — in their suits, on the floor of the boardroom. Though she was asked to wait outside while they slept, she found herself in the waiting room exhausted and envious of their naptime. So she lay on the floor of the lobby and joined in the ritual.

For the majority of us, the idea of a company-supported nap may sound unrealistic or even a bit ridiculous. Yet some of America’s largest corporations — Google, Nike, PwC, and Ben & Jerry’s, to name a few — and 6% of the nation’s businesses polled have napping rooms or sleeping pods, and encourage employees to rest when needed. But why would these companies encourage their employees to be less productive? Well, they aren’t. The companies have realized a very important and proven fact — well-rested employees are more productive, more creative, better communicators, make fewer mistakes, are more engaged and are able to contribute more. All of those factors positively contribute to a business’ bottom line. 

Poor sleep costs the United States $63.2 billion in lost employee productivity annually. Yet despite this staggering number, American business culture counter-intuitively incentivizes workers who sacrifice sleep for work in the name of increased productivity. Workers are encouraged to show up early, stay late and cut corners on sleep. This is a dangerous and expensive mindset. Employees are showing up after a poor night’s sleep but accomplishing less and making more mistakes because they are tired. Plus, studies show that lost sleep at night translates to a greater amount of time spent “cyberloafing” at work. People can awake anywhere from zero times per night to over 100 times per hour, depending on their sleep hygiene or whether they have a sleep disorder.

Sleep-deprived people tend to forget important details and may need to plaster post-it notes all over their desktops as reminders. They generally delude themselves saying, “I am just as productive with 5 hours of sleep as I am with 8 hours… I’m just wired that way.” The truth is they are not. As we all know, the average person requires eight hours of sleep per night. According to the Center of Disease Control (CDC), 30% of U.S. adults are reporting an average of six hours per night.
It’s time that companies take a serious look at sleep. It is a daily ritual that is worth putting time and effort into improving. By helping employees catch some much-needed Zzz’s, businesses can improve their bottom line and the productivity of America’s workforce.

The good news is that there are many ways to improve your employees’ detrimental fatigue to the benefit of everyone involved — without the impracticality of putting them to sleep on a boardroom floor. Start by educating your employees on the importance of good sleep. Consider classes, courses, lunch-and-learns, and trainings to help them recognize how to address the quantity and quality of their sleep. Encourage a workplace culture that promotes a well-rested way of life. Are there ways you can incentivize your workers to get at least eight hours per night? Can a 20-minute nap after lunch be praised instead of punished? Be creative, be accessible and be expeditious; your tired employees are costing you.

There are 3 Pillars of Health — Diet, Exercise and Sleep. It is essential that all three be properly addressed to create healthy and happy employees who will help your bottom line. When I think of the products and ideas that have originated here at amazing Minnesota companies such as Medtronic, 3M, Cargill, United Health Care, Target and countless others, I can’t help but wonder how unstoppable we could be with a well-rested and fully functioning workforce.

So go ahead, tell your employees to hit the snooze button. 

Bio

Sarah Moe has more than a decade of experience working in sleep medicine. She is the founder of Sleep Health Specialists, which provides sleep health education to businesses and corporations. She is also an instructor in the Polysomnography (Sleep) Program at Minneapolis Community and Technical College. Sarah is on the Board of Directors for both the Minnesota Sleep Society and the nonprofit organization Boom Boom’s Beds (bbbeds.org), which provides new beds and linens to children of families in the Twin Cities that have recently secured stable housing.

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