Why Should Leaders Encourage Employees to Get More Sleep?

News Flash: We need more sleep! Most Americans get only 6 hours of sleep per night, according to Dr. Daniel Amen, author of Making a Good Brain Great.

Should employees’ sleep habits become part of a company’s conduct policies alongside drug use, sexual harassment, and drinking? In some professions, being intoxicated on the job is grounds for termination or even losing your license to practice.  A lack of sleep can produce the same level of impairment. Yet, America’s workforce continues to operate at less than its best day after day.

Why should business leaders care about their team’s sleep habits?

According to Russell Sanna, executive director of the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, the comorbidities of sleep are on the rise. As sleep continues to suffer, research shows growing trends in obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, depression, stroke and hypertension. We very well may be working ourselves to death.

Sanna highlights that companies have much to lose by demanding employees be “on call” 24/7, work late, arrive early and so on. Individuals can also be part of the problem. Some Americans pride themselves on their lack of sleep like it’s a badge of honor. They boast about excessive work hours and what they accomplish on only 4 hours of sleep. In reality, these folks should be ashamed of their ignorance.

Here are 3 compelling reasons leaders should care about employees’ sleep:

1. Cognitive Functioning. Does your team pride itself on creativity, decisiveness or sound judgement? A lack of sleep interferes with cognitive performance, the executive functions in the brain. When we don’t get the right amount of sleep, productivity and performance suffer. That’s costly.

2. Health Care. With diseases associated with lack of sleep on the rise, health care costs soar. In contrast, a company that promotes healthy sleep may see more affordable medical plans. A healthier company equals lower overhead.

3. Safety. Lastly, Sanna highlights the prime concern of safety. You don’t have to run a skyscraper construction company or Cirque Du Soleil to be affected by a lack of sleep. With degraded cognitive performance, reaction times slow down (i.e., while driving) and moral judgement is impaired (i.e., looking the other way).

What can leaders do to impact the sleep health of their team?

Whether you lead a Fortune 500 company or a household of 4, you can promote sleep health by promoting healthy sleep habits.

1. Encourage a healthy life style.

People who see themselves as healthy are more likely to develop healthy habits (i.e., diet and exercise). In one study, those who exercise reported better quality of sleep compared to those who don’t exercise.

Diet also plays a role. According to research by Dr. Van Cauter, those who sleep less have a bigger appetite and crave caffeine and simple sugars to provide the energy to get through the day. That same quick fix diet inhibits a good night’s sleep. The National Sleep Foundation reports that those who get adequate sleep are less like to be overweight, which lowers health risks.

A few ideas:
  • Limit availability of unhealthy snacks in snack machines or break areas.
  • Encourage lunch time exercise or activity groups.
  • Take conversations and meetings outdoors to walk and talk.
  • Speak out against the “less sleep is a badge of honor” mentality.

2. Encourage sleep awareness.

Studies reveal that we are not very accurate at estimating how much we’ve slept. We tend to tally up the number of hours we spent in bed regardless of wether we slept well or not. Even worse, we grossly underestimate the negative effects lack of sleep has on our work and productivity.

In today’s technology enabled culture, there are numerous options to help us become more aware of how much or how little sleep we’re actually getting. My favorite is a Basis. We can’t make adjustments to our sleep without knowing what our current sleep patterns are in terms of duration and quality.

A few ideas:
  • Provide your whole team with a fitness/sleep tracker app or device. (Wouldn’t that be awesome?!)
  • Encourage sleep tracking through a journal. (How much do you think you slept? How do you feel as a result?)
  • Offer incentives to those who string together a week, month or 90 days of adequate (7-8 hours) of sleep per night.

3. Encourage healthy sleep routines.

Unintentionally, companies interfere with the sleep health of their employees. Leaders set expectations that calls and emails must be handled at all hours. People are expected to respond to requests well outside of normal work hours. Thus, team members are checking their mobile devices constantly.

In one survey, 80% of those polled say the first thing they do when they wake up in the morning is check their smartphone. Of 18-44 year olds, “79% of smartphone users have their phone on or near them all but two hours of their waking day.” This interferes with our normal biological rhythms, elevating our stress. Artificial light from screens suppresses our melatonin levels, a chemical in our bodies that promotes sleep.

A few ideas:
  • Reestablish expectations for when employees must respond to calls and messages. (For example: not between the hours of 9PM and 7AM – I’m being generous.)
  • Encourage people to leave the office or work site no later than 6:00 PM.
  • Inquire as to why certain employees are working extensive hours. (Do they need to delegate more? Are they under undue pressure from a superior?)
  • Encourage the use of “old fashioned alarm clocks” rather than a smartphone beside the bed.

Being a highly successful, productive and profitable company rests on the shoulders of your team. In order to ensure they are able to bring their absolute best selves to work, consistently, you’ll want them to be well rested. Promote a culture that values sleep and you’ll soon find a team that performs better day in and day out. Everybody wins!

Question: What is one strategy you can use to promote healthy sleep habits within your team? Please leave a comment below to share your ideas with others.


Please note: I encourage reader discussion, however, I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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