Dan Miller: Sleep as a Strategic Resource


Link to Dan Miller’s LinkedIn homepage

I am pleased to host this guest post by Dan Miller on the importance of sleep–even as compared to other business concerns. It is the third guest post this semester from students in my Monetary and Financial Theory class. You can see links to all of the other student guest posts here. Here is Dan:

The corporate culture in America and around the globe has come to value employees that can work harder than ever before, even if that means working around the clock.  While it is a common understanding that people need at least eight hours of sleep to function properly, there is a small portion of the population (1-3%), are among the “sleepless elite,” people who report only needing a fraction of the sleep that the vast majority of the population needs. There are numerous CEOs, billionaires, and successful politicians including Marissa Mayer, Martha Stewart, and even Barack Obama  who report being members of this unique group.  Donald Trump, another idolized entrepreneur in the “sleepless elite,” has been quoted saying “How can somebody who is sleeping 12 hours a night compete with someone who is only sleeping three or four.”

By discussing their ability to get by with little sleep, these executives are serving as role models for a norm that a full night’s sleep is optional, even a luxury, if you want to get ahead in business.  I believe that the corporate world can and should shed this toxic notion that “sleep is for the weak” for the benefit of individuals, organizations and the economy as a whole. A better, healthier approach to sleep will ensure that organizations are getting the best performance out of its human capital.  However elementary, proper sleep is the best measure to prevent a fatigued or stressed out work force.

Sleep deprivation is viewed by some, not without merit, as a national health crisis similar to obesity.  Organizations should go a step further and help combat this by not only encouraging and a sleep-supportive culture, but also create set of sleep-supportive practices. Organizations should not fear that they are meddling with employees private lives by encouraging sleep. Form a strictly financial perspective some organizations do encourage sleep as a method of reducing healthcare costs. Sleep is a performance enhancing, preventative behavior and it should be a central concern for organizations.

The workplace demands influence sleep, people’s jobs are inextricably linked with their ability to establish healthy sleep habits. Here are some active steps for promoting and preserving employees “sleep life”.

1. Culture

CEOs and managers should go on the record stating how much they benefit from a full nights sleep. This will set a good example because leaders set the tone for organizational habits.  In addition, sleep education programs could be a useful resource for larger organizations where the executives may be distant from large portions of the work force.

2. Allow employees to separate from work when the day is finished.

Checking work related emails late into the night has been cited as a cause for sleep deprivation by some.  Set limits on how late emails can be sent or at least set limits on how late people should be expected to respond to emails.

3. Nap Rooms.

The key idea behind naps is to mange your circadian rhythms and to wake up feeling refreshed, not groggy.  Employees who are struggling with sleep deprivation can at least temporarily alleviate the problem with short bouts of sleep in a napping room. Even small loss in productivity from a few minutes of napping is worth while if it prevents a costly mistake and is a wise investment.

4. Manage or Reduce work hours scheduled and permitted.

Sleep experts suggest that sleep policies should limit scheduled work to no more than 12 hours a day, and preferably less than that.

A critical takeaway from this post is that corporations should start to treat sleep as a strategic resource. Even small deficits of sleep can have negative consequences. Although workers often convince themselves that missing a few hours here and there is no big deal, the literature suggests that doing so creates problems. In fact,missing less than one hour of sleep on one night has been linked to memory declines and increases in workplace injuries and “cyberloafing.”