Get caught sleeping on the job?

‘Great’ says Arianna Huffington, ‘keep up the good work!’

Huffington, founder of The Huffington Post and current CEO of Thrive Global, is one of many executives leading the workplace sleep revolution. She brings her passion for sleep to work through a two-fold approach: she models good sleep habits – not answering emails close to bedtime and taking naps in her office at work when necessary – and she enables employees to prioritize sleep – reducing telepressure and providing in-office nap rooms.

“It’s important [to have nap rooms in the office] because the science around naps is very clear—they really work,” says Huffington. “Studies have shown that naps boost our immune system, lower our blood pressure, increase our ability to learn, improve our memory and performance of complex tasks. What workplace wouldn’t want a free way to do all that? Plus, nap rooms and nap pods are also a signal to employees that this is a workplace that prioritizes well-being instead of burnout.” (architectural digest)

Although installing an office nap room is not completely free, Huffington’s point is well taken: a 20 minute nap that boosts performance for the remainder of the day is an efficient use of resources.

Huffington became an advocate for better workplace sleep culture after experiencing an extreme symptom of sleep deprivation – loss of consciousness. While sleep deprivation usually presents with subtler (read: easier to ignore) symptoms, it adds up to a serious reduction in mental ability.

The costs of sleep deprivation

Sleep-deprived workers are less productive: they show up late to work, fall asleep or become very sleepy on the job, make poor decisions, have more accidents and injuries, and exhibit counterproductive work behaviors such as surfing the web and being more volatile. Hours worked does not equate to work done: sleep-deprived workers take more time to accomplish tasks. Insomnia alone (i.e., difficulty falling asleep or maintaining sleep throughout the night) is estimated to result in the loss of 11 days of work performance per individual in a given year, costing the US workforce $63.2 billion annually.

Sleep deprivation severely impairs mental ability. Dr. Czeisler, a renowned expert in puts it this way: “We now know that 24 hours without sleep or a week of sleeping four or five hours a night induces an impairment equivalent to a blood alcohol level of .1%. We would never say, ‘This person is a great worker! He’s drunk all the time!’ yet we continue to celebrate people who sacrifice sleep. The analogy to drunkenness is real because, like a drunk, a person who is sleep deprived has no idea how functionally impaired he or she truly is. Moreover, their efficiency at work will suffer substantially, contributing to the phenomenon of presenteeism.”

The start of a workplace sleep revolution

CEOs worldwide are waking up to the evidence: sleep deprivation is costly, and quality sleep is a potent performance enhancer. Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini initiated a sleep incentive program for employees. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella prioritize getting 8 hours of sleep a night.

Join the workplace sleep revolution by starting with these suggestions:
(From The Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology)

Lead by example. Leaders should make time for adequate sleep in their own schedules and in the schedules of employees. Build a company culture that values sleep and the performance boost achieved through quality sleep.

Reduce telepressure. Encourage employees to stop checking work email late at night. Late night emails expose the brain to blue light of the screen and ask the brain to process new information – telling the brain that it isn’t time to sleep yet.

Allow for flexible work schedules. Make use of an employee’s most productive hours by allowing them to schedule work based on their chronotype. Some employees may be most productive from 6 am to 10 am, others may be most productive after 5 pm.

Provide nap rooms. Follow Huffington’s lead and set aside a space for employees to nap so that they can return to their task ready to work at full capacity instead of stumbling through the day with inebriating levels of sleep deprivation.

Initiate some or all of these measures in the workplace and expect to see an increase in productivity, employee engagement, creativity, and more. The final outcome: well-rested leaders inspiring and guiding well-rested employees to outperform the sleep-deprived competition.




Author: Cecilia Gaultney is Associate, Executive Assessment and Employee Surveys at Huntbridge. She is also a graduate student in Industrial Organizational Psychology at University of Maryland, Baltimore County.


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