The Importance of Sleep in Times Like These

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Apr 15, 2020
This article is part of a series called COVID-19 Coverage.

Going to work overly tired— even if you’re working from home — is the same as going to work after a few too many drinks. It’s unacceptable. Office cultures that encourage too little sleep not only make for less effective workplaces but can also create toxic work environments that increase employee burnout and presentism.

Research by Dr. Matthew Walker, prominent sleep expert and author of Why We Sleep, highlights that sleep-deprived employees are less effective than those who get enough sleep. They’re slower to complete their work, are more likely to make errors with high costs, have difficultly learning and retaining new skills, and are less likely to tackle big projects that can lead your organization forward.

They’re also more likely to have massive mood swings — think tyrannical boss who’s happy one minute and throws a tantrum the next — and behave dishonestly.

Mood swings are a symptom of sleep-deprivation, largely due to a disconnect between the prefrontal cortex (logical brain) and amygdala (emotional brain), which can increase heightened reactions by up to 40%.

Meaning one employee’s sleep-deprived emotional response could quickly escalate a simple miscommunication between teams, an employee behavior issue, or customer service complaint.

Reactionary behavior can easily erode a positive workplace culture. Employees who report to an under-slept boss are found to be less motivated and are more likely to suffer from burnout. A good night of sleep is the only way to re-establish the connection between your emotional and logical brain.

Beyond culture shifts, a RAND Corporation study that examined four large U.S. companies found that:

  • Insufficient sleep costs an average of nearly $2,000, and up to $3,500, in lost productivity per employee annually— a combined loss of $54 million dollars each year.
  • Lack of sleep costs the U.S. economy up to $411 billion per year – which is 2.28 percent of its GDP.

How much sleep do you need?

The World Health Organization declared sleep deprivation an epidemic among developed countries, and workers in the U.S. seem to be leading this losing battle. Among the American adult population, 65% fail to get the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep each night. In 1942, only 20% failed to get the recommended amount.

On a more positive note, research by Dr. Walker shows that employees who get more sleep earn more. A single hour of more sleep can boost an employee’s earning potential by up to five percent.

Mismanagement of sleep — especially when encouraged or modeled by managers — is not only bad for your employees’ performance, but it’s terrible for your healthcare costs. Lack of sleep has been associated with many lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer, and Alzheimer’s.

According to the American Heart Association, “Adults 45 years or older who sleep fewer than six hours a night are 200% more likely to have a heart attack or stroke during their lifetime, as compared to those sleeping seven to eight hours a night.”

Companies that promote good sleep habits can make a positive impact on health, wellness, productivity, and creativity. And the changes can be simple, like promoting daily exercise, creating nap rooms, or implementing policies to promote a healthy work-life balance — like restricting work emails from seven p.m. to six a.m.

Want to improve your team’s sleep habits? Follow these easy tips outlined by the American Heart Association:

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day — even on weekends.
  • Avoid drinking caffeine after noon and alcohol a few hours before bedtime.
  • Exercise daily.
  • Create a wind-down bedtime routine. Limit exposure to blue-light, avoid checking emails, take a shower or bath to lower your body temperature, and sleep in a dark, cool room.
This article is part of a series called COVID-19 Coverage.
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