In this day and age, many HR professionals are planning programs to increase their employees’ well-being. These tend to focus on increasing physical activity (think exercise challenges), nutrition or perhaps meditation. All great topics, however, I’d argue the most important topic, which is often missing, is the topic of sleep.
We are not sleeping enough.
We are currently witnessing a global sleep deprivation epidemic:
35% of people sleep less than 6 hours a night… while most people need between 7 to 9 hours.
48% of people have trouble falling or staying asleep at least 1 night a week — that’s almost half of the people reading this article.
Clearly, we’re not getting the sleep that we need. Although the specific reasons for our sleep deprivation differ from individual to individual, there is a common theme we often hear from our clients: “I want to get the most out of life and there simply isn’t enough time in the day to do all I want to do”. Whether the time is reserved for work or family or personal time, sleep is not at the top of our priority list and often gets deprioritized under pressure. However, to get the most out of life, sleep needs to be reprioritized, both by individuals and companies.
Sleep deprivation costs U.S. companies more than $63 billion every year.
A Harvard study found that in the U.S. alone, companies are losing $63 billion each year due to sleep-deprived employees. This is partially due to the lack of awareness about the prevalence and consequences of chronic sleep deprivation:
First, it impacts our physical and mental health:
- Sleep deprivation increases the chances of developing a burnout, depression, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, and even cancer, to name just a few.
Second, it affects our safety:
- When someone is fatigued, the risk of an accident increases by 70% — in the U.S. more people are killed by drowsy driving than drunk driving
- Already 40 minutes of sleep loss leads to a dramatic rise in amount and severity of work injuries
Third, our productivity suffers:
- Sleep loss leads to lower engagement, poor decsision making and it reduces creativity and problem-solving skills.
- For each sleep-deprived employee, an organization loses over 11 days per year in productivity.
- This is not surprising, as someone who’s been awake for roughly 20 hours performs similarly to someone who is legally drunk (having a blood alcohol level of 0.1%).
Why companies should act to fight sleep deprivation
While programs centered on work-life balance, and employee health and well-being are gaining traction in the workplace to increase productivity and engagement, reduce absenteeism and decrease health care costs, the topic of sleep is often still missing from such programs. Sleep deprivation is, at one level, obviously, a personal issue and part of a larger wellbeing and productivity challenge that also includes mental relaxation, healthy nutrition, and physical activity. However, in an increasingly connected world, in which many companies now expect their employees to be on call and to answer emails and be available well beyond traditional working hours, sleep is an important topic to be brought up in the workplace.
“The better we sleep, the healthier we eat, the more we move or exercise and the better we cope with stress.”
I argue that sleep should be the number one priority for companies to cover in their health and well-being programs because it directly increases the effectiveness of all other health efforts: The better we sleep, the healthier we eat, the more we move or exercise and the better we cope with stress. Many employees are unaware that they are getting insufficient sleep and assume constantly being tired is normal. This group isn’t likely to seek out the help of a sleep psychologist (let alone have easy access to one) therefore education through the employer might be the best chance at improving their sleep, their health and thus, also their performance.
Improving employees’ sleep is a win-win situation for both the employer and the employee. Employees will improve their physical and mental health, in addition to being more productive. Beyond a direct impact on productivity, an employer will also benefit from lower absenteeism and lower health care costs. These effects trickle down — for example, research has shown that when leaders get good sleep, their teams are more engaged. On the other hand, the employee will enjoy work (and life) more as sleep directly impacts our mood and our emotional reactivity.
Considering so many of us regard “being happy and fulfilled” a major life goal, it’s puzzling why we cut down on sleep when it’s, in fact, a direct driver of our daily happiness. Therefore, we are urging HR professionals to put sleep on the agenda, leading to employees being healthier, more productive and happier.
Get In Touch
Contact us to find out how you can help your team sleep better.
You can also meet the Shleep team at the Wellbeing @ Work event in Amsterdam on 10 September.
Shleep focuses on improving the performance of companies by improving the sleep of employees, teams and leaders through a digital sleep coaching platform. Users of its platform have access to a tailored exercises and courses, a sleep expert, relaxation and jet lag tools, individual and group sleep consultations and live webinars on topics such as how to cope with sleep deprivation, insomnia, jet lag and sleep in babies. Shleep supports clients in creating a cultural change around the topic of sleep and performance through the platform, an HR dashboard and a team-based program. Clients include top consultancies, tech companies and banks.
About The Author
Dr. Els van der Helm is a sleep expert, former McKinsey consultant and adjunct professor at IE Business School in Madrid. She studied sleep extensively, starting with her Master’s in Neurosciences, where she investigated the effect of sleep on memory (Netherlands Institute for Neurosciences) and emotional processing (Harvard Medical School). She also investigated the effect of sleep on the brain as a Fulbright scholar during her PhD in Psychology (University of California Berkeley) before working at McKinsey as a strategy and management consultant. Her publications have been featured by Harvard Business Review, The Atlantic, The Economist, Inc. Magazine, McKinsey Quarterly, and many others.