Less sleep equals more waking hours in the day which equals more productivity… right? According to recent research, not quite. While there are some highly successful people who famously attribute their achievements to skimping on shut eye (though even some of them will admit it isn’t ideal), the vast majority of people simply cannot function as effectively on too little sleep and may actually be decreasing their productivity by attempting to do so. Research from the National Sleep Foundation shows that despite the need for adults to get 7-9 hours per sleep a night, 45% US adults get less than even the minimum requirement of 7 hours.
So, why should an employer care about their employees’ sleep habits? There are a number of ways that inefficient sleep can harm an employee’s ability to put their best foot forward at work. In fact, the U.S. loses up to $411 billion, equaling roughly 1.23 million work days, a year due to sleep deprivation. A lack of sleep can negatively impact employees in the following areas:
- Mind – Increased difficulty to focus on tasks, remember important details, and be creative.
- Body – Low energy and an inability for the immune system to fight off infections and disease
- Mood – Hindered ability to regulate “feel-good” chemicals, like serotonin and dopamine
- Stress Levels – Increased levels of the stress hormone, cortisol; this can then make it even more difficult to sleep, inducing an unhealthy cycle of stress and sleep deprivation
While these may seem like personal issues for an employee, as stated above, there is good reason for an employer to take interest – sleep greatly impacts productivity. Beyond that, however, there is also an opportunity for employers to show their workforce that they truly care for them as people, not just employees, by investing in different areas of their lives.
Here are some steps employers can take to create a work environment that encourages healthy sleep habits and overall well-being:
Make the Commitment – The first step is to recognize the importance of sleep and commit to supporting better sleep outcomes. It is easy enough to say “get more sleep” to your workforce, but truly understanding the importance of sleep and backing up the sentiment through action from management will ensure your organization is headed in the right direction.
Consider the Bigger Picture – Offer benefits and implement programs that help to address other aspects of well-being that have been shown to affect sleep hygiene, like fitness and nutrition. This could include offering healthy food and snack options in the office, creating more opportunities for participating in physical activity, sponsoring behavioral change programs, and more.
Minimize At-Work Stressors – Ensuring that you have a healthy work culture and a positive relationship with employees is a good way to minimize workplace stress. Work in general will always have an element of stress to it – making deadlines, producing quality work etc. but that stress should not come from a toxic work environment. Employees should feel comfortable interfacing with upper management and co-workers in order to get the best job done.
Encourage Work-Life Balance – As we all know, stress from both work and life outside the office will inevitably bleed into one another at times. This is why it is important, when possible, to offer flexibility of schedule and encourage employees to utilize PTO and hours away from the office for activities, like family time and self-care. Although this also can take some time away from work hours, it is time spent proactively to prevent issues down the line, so when they are at work, they are ready to go.
The more we learn about the benefits of sleep, the more it becomes clear that well-rested employees are worth the investment. This doesn’t necessarily mean we need to ditch the “work hard, play hard” mentality, we simply need to make sure we are adding “sleep hard” to the mantra, as well.