A Little Pillow Talk Can Make a Healthy Difference

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May 9, 2019

Between 7% and 19% of adults in the U.S. report not getting enough rest or sleep each day and between 50 and 70 million Americans have chronic sleep disorders.

In the workplace, this lack of sleep contributes to the inability to learn, focus and react. It can leave employees feeling disengaged from their work and it may even cause sleep-related incidents and contribute to the number of worker’s compensation claims. Additionally, a lack of sleep can have a negative impact on your immune system which opens the door to sick days and missed workdays.

The cost of sleepiness

There are many reasons why employees aren’t getting enough sleep. Risk factors for sleep deficiency or deprivation include:

  • Not having enough time for sleep, a common problem for parents and caregivers
  • Working multiple jobs
  • Lifestyle choices such as alcohol and drug use
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Conditions such as heart failure or disease, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke or ADHD, among others

The National Safety Council (NSC) claims sleepiness costs between $1,200 and $3,100 per employee amounting to billions annually in health-related lost productivity. Additionally, the National Sleep Foundation says, “Highly sleepy workers are 70 percent more likely to be involved in accidents than non-sleepy workers.” The bottom line is employees simply aren’t getting enough sleep and employers are feeling the financial impact – whether they realize it or not.

Sleeping at work

An online survey by mattress company Amerisleep found 50% of the survey participants reported napping sometimes while on the job. In most workplaces, this is considered unacceptable and usually results in punitive action for the employee. However, some companies are embracing sleep as a key component in their work-life balance policies and have implemented measures that help employees get enough sleep, both at home and at work.

While employers cannot ensure that people go to bed on time, they can implement sleep policies that offer short daytime naps, usually between 10 and 30 minutes. These naps can go a long way in correcting problems that arise from a lack of sleep. The benefits include improving daytime alertness, aiding in more effective learning, improving physical stamina and improving memory. All of these benefits can improve productivity, efficiency and effectiveness in the workplace.

Workplace ideas

Creating an effective sleep policy for each workplace must take into account several different factors, but there are some innovative ways companies have implemented strategies to combat sleepiness:

  • Allow for sleep. A sleep policy may be as simple as providing permission for short naps during identified periods. Companies that allow this include PricewaterhouseCoopers and Uber’s offices.
  • Install napping rooms. Google is famous for its napping pods, among other benefits found at its headquarters, and the idea is taking off. Other companies that have added napping and/or meditation rooms include: Ben & Jerry’s, Cisco, Zappos, and Nike. These napping rooms should be quiet and relaxing with alarm systems to awaken employees gently.
  • After-hours email bans. Some companies have fostered a better work-life balance by ensuring employees don’t need to work after they leave the workplace. Consulting firm Vynamic implemented a no-email policy from 10 pm to 6 am and on the weekends to ensure that its employees can get good rest during their time off.

Promoting better sleep at home

While there are many factors that are out of their control, there are some strategies that can help employees even at home.

  • Provide sleep education. Many people simply aren’t aware of the dangers of sleep deficiency or its impact on their mental and physical health. And some may also be unaware of the latest sleep science innovations, relaxation techniques, and mattresses solutions that can add to their quality of sleep.  Having wellness programs that incorporate sleep education are often the first step organizations can take toward helping their employees improve their sleep habits.
  • Incorporate flextime to allow employees to sleep when they need it. Different employees have different preferences for when they would like to work and when they are capable of achieving peak productivity and brain activity. Allowing them to decide when and how they work is often advantageous, when possible.
  • Offer incentives. Some companies have offered once-a-year incentives or stipends to employees to offset the costs to upgrade their bedding products, learn about relaxation techniques or buy any solutions in the marketplace that will improve their quality of sleep. These incentives allow employees to sleep better at home so that they arrive at the workplace feeling refreshed and therefore are more productive.
  • Don’t incentivize overwork. Historically, many companies rewarded employees who work the most hours or consistently pull all-nighters. But this simply rewards those who are present, not necessarily those who are effective. By choosing to reward individuals and teams that accomplish their goals within work hours you send the message that productivity is valued but not when employees sacrifice their home lives or their personal health.

Sleep and work

The relationship between sleep and workplace performance is highly correlated and, moving forward, it is likely that many more employers will begin to see the value in providing opportunities that encourage better sleep for their workers, both at home and in the workplace.

In addition to this, the science of sleep has improved in terms of understanding how to promote better sleep and how to structure sleep in a way that allows for optimal performance.

Ultimately, sleep can have an impact on an employee’s health, happiness and their ability to achieve success – all of which are factors that lead to the success of the employer. So, if your organization doesn’t have policies or resources in place to help employees manage sleep, it may be time to partner with a sleep industry expert who can help you develop one so you can better support the long term health and wellness of your employees.