(Story by Laura Hamill Originally appeared in BenefitsPro)
You’ve probably heard that eight hours of sleep a night is ideal. But don’t be fooled by the buzz — everyone’s magic number is different.
You might feel alert and effective on six hours of sleep. Or you might find yourself dragging, caffeinating and making frequent trips to the vending machine without nine hours or more. What’s important is that you sleep as much or as little as you need to be your best self.
Sadly, sleep is often a taboo topic in the workplace. Technology has driven the “always on” expectation — so if you’re sleeping, you must be slacking. But with lack of sleep linked to serious health issues and decreased cognitive function, sleep-deprived employees are more likely to make poor decisions and be less productive.
In fact, one in four leaders don’t get enough sleep, undermining important behaviors such as effective problem solving and supporting others. Even worse, these sleep inefficiencies can eventually hurt financial performance: Insomnia costs U.S. businesses more than $63 billion in lost productivity.
Sleep isn’t a luxury — it’s a necessity that drives health and productivity. And it’s not just an individual issue. Organizations must support employee sleep efforts — yet53 percent of them create schedules that encourage sleep deficiency.
How do you build an organization that supports and encourages sufficient sleep? It starts with creating a culture and work environment that allows — and encourages — employees to unplug and recharge.
Here are five things you can do to help your employees prioritize sleep:
Limit work hours. Employees want to do their best work and get great results for the company — so they often stay connected to the office outside typical operating hours. Unfortunately, this comes at the expense of sufficient sleep. Set policies that prohibit working after a certain time, even if that means shutting down email servers,like Volkswagen did. Limitations are especially critical for people whose jobs impact public safety, like medical personnel, truck drivers, and airline pilots.
Start walking. It sounds counterintuitive, but studies show that a 30-minute walk in morning light is one of the best ways to get a good night’s sleep. The light helps regulate the body clock and releases mood-boosting serotonin, making for happier, well-rested employees. So start a morning walking group — and forgo the conference rooms in favor of walking meetings. And your shift workers who miss out on the sunshine? Encourage them to get up and stay active during their breaks.
Create an intentional office setup. Help employees stay alert during the day by adding features to the workplace designed to elevate their energy. Think paint colors, cozy furniture, and uplifting posters. Research has shown that cognition-enhancing blue-enriched white light during the day improves sleep at night. And there are other advantages as well, like improved mood, concentration, and productivity.
Encourage telecommuting and flexible work schedules. Long commutes and snarly traffic can cause many employees to spend extra hours in the car. That’s time they could devote to sleeping. Allowing employees to work from home or on a flexible schedule curbs sleep deficiency — and leads to happy, well-rested, productive employees.
Promote sleep challenges. This is a fun way to engage people in friendly competition. Employees can use an activity tracker (like the Jawbone UP or a Fitbit), an app (try Sleep Cycle), or simply self-report the number of hours they’re logging each night. Take it a step further by asking them to report on quality of sleep and share “best practices” for getting a good snooze. Encouraging everyone to track their sleep schedules (such as bedtime and how many times they wake up at night) will help them understand the patterns that lead to their best sleep.
When it comes to your organization’s culture, keep in mind that “always on” is the opposite of “always productive.” It doesn’t increase output. It increases burnout — and that increases turnover and costs.
Give your people a break. Help them get some rest. Because when we snooze, everyone wins.