Inc. | Elisa Boxer | Bosses Are Finding That Sleep is Good For Business--And They're Hiring Coaches to Make it Happen
Society is skimping on sleep and it's backfiring, say the pros. Here are their top tips for getting more shut-eye.
You snooze you lose, right?
Actually, if you don't snooze you lose, according to researchers at Harvard Medical School, who did a study showing that insomnia costs the average worker 11 days per year in lost productivity. That's the equivalent of $2,280 per person, which means we're collectively losing $63 billion per year due to chronic shortage of shut-eye.
More bosses are waking up to the idea that sleep deprivation is bad business.
"Deadlines, obligations and demands take their toll," says Meg Spencer of Wellness Coaches USA. She calls sleep deprivation "a rampant problem" and has seen a sharp rise in the demand for sleep-coaching services.
So why aren't we getting enough shut-eye? In addition to more responsibilities, more stress and more screen time, experts say prevailing attitudes about sleep are a big part of the problem.
"We treat sleep as a luxury, but it's a necessity," says Dr. James Maas, international sleep consultant and author of the book Power Sleep. "It's macho to not get sleep."
But as more snooze-deprived entrepreneurs look for creative ways to solve problems and stay alert, Maas says, they are awakening to the connection between lack of sleep and lack of productivity.
"It's a hot topic right now," says Mark Clermont, president of Provant, a corporate wellness company that provided me with an online sleep program called Project Z.
Clermont says coaches are fielding more questions from businesses about how to help workers fall asleep, stay asleep, and stay awake during the day. He points out that sleep deprivation is a contributor to many chronic conditions like diabetes, obesity, heart disease and depression. Not only can those conditions affect productivity and well-being, they can also drive up healthcare costs and insurance premiums.
The fact that sleep coaching is a growing part of overall wellness programs also helps with buy-in. Coaches offer sleep support in person, by phone and online. Services range from company-wide presentations, to one-on-on sleep hygiene plans.
"Not everyone's goal is to run a mile, but everyone wants to be sharper at work, and to have more energy for their family," says Lauren Faby of 4th Source, a corporate wellness tech company.
Ready for some rest? Here are four top tips from the pros:
1. Banish the blue light.
We've all been told to stop using screens before bed. And while that's easier said than done, there is a way to lessen the sleep-depriving effects of our phones, TVs, tablets and computers.
The blue light from monitors tells our brain to stay awake. But shades and filters are available to reduce that blue light. There are also apps to change the screen color at a designated hour. Another option is a pair of glasses designed to diffuse the blue light from whichever device you happen to be surfing pre-slumber.
2. Download your worries.
Stress is a major cause of sleeplessness. "We're worried about ourselves, our spouses, our kids, our parents," says Dr. Maas. "We're too busy during the day, so worries all come up at night."
Before going to bed, Dr. Maas recommends asking: "Which worries might keep me up tonight?" The write them in a notebook. Keep that notebook by your bed, so if you wake up, you can "download your brain" in the middle of the night.
Doing this on a phone works too. Just be sure to put the phone on airplane mode to disable the RF transmitter, since that can affect sleep quality.
3. Try segmented sleep.
This technique, used in pre-Industrial times and still commonly used in some cultures, is making a comeback. It involves going to bed when the sun goes down, waking up naturally for an hour or two in the middle of the night, and then heading back to dreamland until the sun comes up.
Using the in-between time for reading, writing, meditating or some other screenless pursuit can increase productivity and decrease the stress of not being able to fall back asleep.
"I had one client who was up in the middle of the night pretty much every night," says Tatiana Kaletsch, a Manhattan wellness coach. "Once we figured this out, she was very happy and worked with her natural rhythm, rather than tossing and turning every night."
4. See the light.
If you head for your phone or coffeepot first thing in the morning, try heading for the door instead. Experts say daily exposure to outside light will help set your natural body clock for the next 24 hours.
Project Z, the online sleep program provided by Provant and created by physicians at a company called Optisom, recommends 15 minutes of direct morning sunlight within 15 minutes of waking.
"Giving your body a dose of morning sunshine," according to Project Z's online program, "tells your brain it's time to get going."