More often than not, when we talk about sleep we’re talking about whether or not we’re getting enough of it in relation to its impact on our health. According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) last Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, approximately 30%, or 40.6 million American adults are sleep deprived. The CDC also reports that sleeping less than seven hours per day is associated with an increased risk of developing chronic conditions including obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and frequent mental distress.
Beyond the devastating health effects of not getting enough sleep, there are also significant economical consequences. Given that most who are sleep deprived are part of the nation’s workforce, researchers from Harvard University set out to measure the impact of fatigued employees on the economy. Their study found that insomnia results in the loss of an estimated 11.3 days of productivity each year, which equates to roughly $63.2 billion.
On the other side of that coin, adequate sleep has been associated with a number of job performance-boosting benefits, including improved focus, memory, decision-making, response time, and accuracy.
Essentially, a well-rested employee is a productive, happy, and successful employee, making you a more productive and successful company. While getting good sleep is a personal responsibility, there are things you can do as a company and/or supervisor to encourage your employees to prioritize getting quality zzz’s.
The more people know about the importance and benefits of quality sleep (and how to get it), the more likely they’ll be to act on that knowledge, especially if you create a culture where personal health is prioritized and promoted. There are a number of ways to go about doing this, including regularly circulating pertinent findings from sleep-related studies.
Leverage company newsletters and/or bulletin boards, or hold wellness events that bring in local experts. You might also consider getting ideas from other companies who are trying to improve the negative impact of sleep loss on performance and safety. Johnson & Johnson, for example, offers employees a digital wellness coaching program for insomnia, and as part of its employee assistance programs, Ceridian provides its employees with sleep coaches.
It’s also important to educate managers on how to spot the signs of sleep deprivation in their employees. These signs include dozing off at their desk, increased caffeine consumption, sudden weight changes, constant yawning, poor concentration, irritability, dark circles under their eyes, etc. Teach managers the proper protocol for approaching and supporting employees they suspect are suffering from sleeplessness.
It’s very common for employers to offer healthy food options, complimentary gym memberships, reimbursements, or to even have onsite gyms for free use, signaling to their employee base that they care about their health and are willing to invest in it. Sleep is an equally important part of the health equation, so why not invest in your employees’ sleep? But how?
The Better Sleep Council recommends people replace their mattress every 7-10 years, but depending on a variety of factors, this lifespan may be much shorter. Unfortunately, most people don’t prioritize buying a good mattress, and ones worth buying aren’t usually cheap, either. To help motivate and incentivize getting good sleep in a very direct and tangible way, consider instituting a mattress reimbursement program, where you help offset a certain percentage of the cost of a new, better mattress, and send out a list of mattresses you or a trusted sleep expert recommends.
To help inform your recommendations, spend time researching what makes a good, meaning it helps you sleep better. For instance, studies show that mattress materials have a significant impact on spinal alignment, proper airflow, and temperature regulation, which are all critical components of getting quality sleep. Also look into options that offer extended trial periods and money-back returns. Casper, for example, offers a 100 night trial, and they design their line of mattresses based on scientific findings. They also consistently test them during various in-house sleep experiments.
You might also try reaching out to various mattress companies to see if they’d be willing to partner in some way and offer a discount to your employees.
Company step challenges, where employees submit the amount of steps logged on wearables like a FitBit or Apple Watch, are increasingly popular and help motivate people to get active. Why not do the same for sleep? Most fitness trackers can monitor your sleep habits, and there are also a number of great sleep tracking apps. Set up fun rewards for employees who win weekly or monthly sleep competitions for as long as you feel is necessary.
The simple act of monitoring sleep makes people more aware of how they’re sleeping, motivating them to make helpful, beneficial changes.
Optimized office design
There are a number of things companies can do to help their employees sleep better from an office design standpoint.
In one study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, researchers set out to see what impact (if any) daylight exposure had on the health of office workers relative to sleep quality and overall well-being. The study found that workers in windowless environments experienced poorer sleep, while those who worked in offices with more daylight exposure engaged in more physical activity and slept longer. Natural sunlight can boost energy and improve our ability to fall asleep, given that sunlight helps regulate the body’s regular sleep cycle.
The authors of the study ultimately recommended that, when designing offices, companies should place workers near windows in order to promote good health. If there aren’t many windows, encourage employees to get outside throughout the day.
You might also want to look into adding nap rooms, sleep pods, or quiet areas to allow employees to rest during the day, a trend made popular by companies like Google. According to research conducted by the Sleep Research Centre at England’s Loughborough University, a power nap taken during the workday can increase energy without making it difficult for employees to sleep at night.
New research from the University of Pennsylvania also shows that a short nap in the afternoon improves people’s thinking and memory skills, and “makes the brain perform as if it were five years younger.” Essentially, the study found that participants who napped after lunch performed better on mental ability tests than those who did not sleep during the day. While the usual recommendation is to take a 20 minute nap, this study suggested a full hour was the optimal nap length.
A culture of working smarter
The modern workforce values work-life balance more than ever before. Many of the benefits and strategies companies use to offer work-life balance to their employees also come with the added benefit of encouraging adequate rest.
Create a culture that recognizes employees and teams who achieve goals on time and during work hours, and set boundaries for after hours work. If you only reward those who arrive early and stay late, you’re setting the example that success coincides with more hours worked, and it’s actually been proven that more hours worked does not equal more productivity.
Also make sure to encourage employees to use their PTO and sick time. According to Glassdoor, many companies offer and list ample PTO as a benefit, but fail to incentivize and create an environment that makes their workforce feel comfortable taking advantage of it. In fact, most employees end up forfeiting half of their earned vacation time.
Flexible scheduling is another way to encourage employees to get the sleep they need. Not everyone has the same sleep needs, nor is everyone most productive at the same times, so offering flex hours allows employees to set a customized schedule that’s beneficial to them and the company.
While it’s not your responsibility to monitor and ensure your employees are sleeping enough, showing you care about the health of your employees — which includes their ability to get enough rest — will only create a happier and more productive workplace.