Sleep Is Not a “Nice to Have” – It’s a Priority

We all know how it feels to get a poor night’s sleep. The next day we’re sluggish, have trouble focusing, and may even be irritable or anxious. And yet when jobs, families and other responsibilities compete for limited time, it’s hard to make sleep a priority.

Statistics speak to this conflict: A CDC study found that more than one third of all adults do not get the recommended 7 hours of sleep, and – of special interest to employers – more than half of adults ages 25 to 55 do not get enough sleep on workdays. And a recent study posted in Forbes found that trying to make up for lost sleep during the week by sleeping late on the weekend may only make things worse. Researchers divided study participants into three groups: one was allowed to sleep up to 9 hours a night; one could sleep a maximum of 5 hours; and one could sleep a maximum of 5 hours during the week but as long as they could on the weekend. They found the same negative health impacts in the two sleep-deprived groups, but the group that got recovery sleep on the weekend had more difficulty getting even five hours of sleep during the week.

Just how bad is skimping on sleep for your health? The short-term effects of not getting enough sleep – even just 1.5 hours less than the recommended amount – include a lack of energy and focus, impaired memory, relationship stress, a greater likelihood of car accidents, and a decreased interest and participation in normal daily activities. But the picture gets worse with chronic sleep deprivation, which puts people at a higher risk for high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, obesity, and depression.

These sleep-related health issues seriously effect business performance and productivity – a RAND study found that the US loses roughly $411 billion in economic losses and a total of 1.2 million working days each year due to insufficient sleep of workers.

Given the impact of inadequate sleep on productivity and employee health, this issue should be a priority for employers. If you’re wondering where to begin, consider that while there are many reasons that people don’t get enough sleep, work-related stress is common culprit. More than a quarter of global respondents (28-46%) in a National Sleep Foundation study reported lying in bed thinking about work stress while preparing to go to sleep during the two weeks prior to the study.

Is work stress an accepted part of your company culture? Are there implicit (or even explicit) rewards for putting in long days or being available 24/7 As more companies commit to creating a culture of health, now is a good time raise this issue at the highest levels. Managers need to talk to their employees to ensure that workloads are balanced. Top-down messaging reiterating the importance of sleep for a healthy and productive life is essential for creating a work environment that encourages adequate sleep. You can also find inspiration from the many employers that are implementing innovative sleep solutions, such as:

  • Creating sleep challenges using activity trackers, like a Fitbit, or via apps and platforms, such as the Sleep Cycle app, or Shleep and Sleepio’s corporate solutions
  • Setting policies that limit working hours (Volkswagen actually stopped pushing emails to their German staff after working hours!)
  • Adding nap rooms for employees, as has been done by companies such as Uber, Google, and PwC

Finally, try “walking the walk” yourself when it comes to setting a culture of balance! Save emails as a draft if you’re working after hours and send them in the morning, limit scheduling meetings and calls later in the day, encourage employees to take their vacation time, and talk about what you’re doing to improve your health with your teams.

Employers today need to recognize the importance of sleep for all of their employees, and they should provide them with the resources and work environment to achieve it – companies’ bottom lines will be affected if their workers don’t get the sleep they need.

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