A new report recommends that companies launch sleep training programs (Best. Training program. Ever.).
I would like to state for the record that I am a strong proponent of naps.
In fact, to demonstrate my devotion to short periods of daytime sleep, I took three naps while writing that first sentence. (In my defense, I had to look up the word “proponent” and decide whether to write out “I am” or use a contraction. It’s exhausting work, really.)
While napping at work has been frowned upon through most of America’s history, it’s gaining favor as workplaces become more aware of the benefits that come from sleep.
Consider the title of a new report by the consulting firm McKinsey & Company: “The organizational cost of insufficient sleep.”
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From the report: “Many companies do not do enough to promote healthy sleep, which can have serious consequences. As we will demonstrate, sleep deficiencies impair the performance of corporate executives, notably by undermining important forms of leadership behavior, and can thereby hurt financial performance.”
The firm conducted a survey of business leaders and found:
—43 percent say they don’t get enough sleep at least four nights a week.
—Almost half (47 percent) said their companies expect them to be too responsive to emails and phone calls.
—66 percent said they were dissatisfied with how much sleep they get.
—36 percent said their companies don’t allow them to make sleep a priority.
This can be a significant problem — both for leaders and employees — because lack of sleep inhibits creativity, learning, problem-solving and a person’s ability to trust others.
The survey found that more than half of business leaders would like to see their companies imitate other businesses that have adopted sleep pods and nap rooms: “Research has shown that a short nap of 10 to 30 minutes improves alertness and performance for up to two and a half hours.”
The report recommends that companies launch sleep training programs (Best. Training program. Ever.) and give sleep management the same level of attention as time management and health and wellness issues.
I ran the idea of sleep training programs by Phyllis Zee, the medical director of the Center for Circadian and Sleep Medicine at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
“It’s a great thing,” she said. “It’s not so much training people to sleep, it’s changing the culture, and that’s important. We have had this culture where we brag about how little sleep we got and how well we can function with so little sleep. It was a badge of honor. It’s slowly shifting.”
Zee said that while the amount of sleep a person needs varies, the target is between seven and eight hours. But along with length of time is consistency.
“The largest factor is that we’re not prioritizing our sleep,” she said. “We’re not maintaining a regular sleep and wake time, it seems to be something that’s expendable. If you have something you need to do, you’re likely to just curtail your sleep.”
But what about all the wonderful things we have to look at on our phones and tablets?
“If you’re staying up late, you’re not staying up in total darkness,” Zee said. “You’re doing things, checking your emails, working on the computer. That exposure to light late in the evening impacts your sleep pattern. And it’s a vicious cycle.
You stay up too late, you use more light, that makes it harder for you to sleep, so you stay up later, and on and on.”
The “I don’t need that much sleep, anyway” mentality runs up against some harsh data on what insufficient sleep does to your health.
“If you’re getting less than six hours of sleep on average per day, there is a strongly associated risk for adverse events, such as obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes,” Zee said. “There are a lot of consequences.”
And those consequences — combined with reduced work performance — make it in any company’s best interest to care about how much sleep their employees get.
That said, I wouldn’t expect nap rooms to pop up in every workplace overnight. As Zee noted, we’re fighting a cultural view that somehow equates “well-rested” with “lazy.”
But there are steps you can take to help yourself.
“The first thing you want to do is have a regular bedtime and protect that,” Zee said. “After 9 or 9:30 p.m., you should dim the lights out in your house. I don’t mean mope around in total darkness, but there’s no need for full light. When you’re in bed, avoid those electronics.”
She said the time when your body needs light is early in the day, so try to expose yourself to as much natural light as you can. If you don’t work near a window, try to get outside at lunch, or at least sit in an office atrium or somewhere that has sun exposure.
“We did a study about a year ago and found that people whose office had access to windows got more environmental light and that was significantly associated with higher physical activity level during the day and after work, better sleep quality and better mood,” Zee said.
Bottom line: Sleep is good!
I don’t care if it’s under your desk, in the corner of a conference room or in the stairwell with a roll of toilet paper as a pillow. Get out there and be the best work napper you can be.
Rex Huppke writes for the Chicago Tribune. Send him questions by email at email@example.com.