Five Reasons To Focus on Sleep in the Workplace

07 June 2022

One-Third Work, One-Third Sleep, One-Third Everything Else

In an attempt to recruit and retain top talent, progressive companies turn to innovative ways to improve morale and performance, which may lead to improved employee retention. The great news is that focusing on sleep addresses all of it. Here's a quick glance at how traditional employee perks impact the workplace.

  • Therapy may improve morale, but it only reaches people in a “risk zone.”
  • Vacation may improve morale, but it only does so for a short period.
  • Wellness stipends and onsite meals may improve morale but are only part of the equation for improved metabolic health (the three pillars of metabolic health, in no particular order, are: ​​diet, exercise, and sleep).
  • Fertility benefits may help with morale but only apply to a subset of your employees.

All of these benefits may improve retention to some extent, but none of them address the company’s need for performance and growth.

On the flip side, sleep directly benefits performance and growth because well-rested employees…

  • Are 2x more likely to show up to work,
  • Are more productive,
  • Have higher morale,
  • Are more likely to be happy with their roles as they build positive relationships both inside and outside of the workplace.1

Your employees spend one-third of their time at work and one-third of their time sleeping. That leaves another third of their time doing absolutely everything else. It's tempting to believe that each third exists in a vacuum, but that's inaccurate. When employees aren't getting the sleep they need or the time they need for other aspects of their life, this affects their work.

One of the most significant challenges HR professionals face is looking at the whole human when creating policies for work. As an HR professional, you can't do your job effectively if you only concern yourself with what happens to employees while at work. The "work third" gives you a glimpse into what could be impacting performance, but nowhere close to the whole story. Since sleep improves morale, retention, and productivity, focus on sleep.

Studies show that even increasing sleep from 6 hours per night to 8 hours results in a 400% improvement in cognitive performance.2

60% of Your Employees are Marginalized Because of Their Genetics, But Making One Simple Tweak Improves Productivity and Health of All Employees

Since sleep occupies one-third of our lives, is imperative for physical and mental health, and happens every night, paying attention to sleep will fast track your company towards a more inclusive work environment which is the "secret weapon" of high-achieving companies. In fact, one study found, a diverse workforce is 70% more likely to successfully reach a new customer audience.3

Surprisingly, 60% of U.S. workers have a hard time sleeping because of when they need to work.

Yes, 60%. We're not even talking about work stress keeping an individual awake at night (another issue). We're talking about the time employees typically start working at 9 AM.

So, why are 60% of your people being harmed by this schedule? The answer is their genetics.

Chronotype (the type of sleeper you are) is genetic, not a choice, as we would like to believe.

If you're a night owl, like 30% of employees, you can thank your genetics. Proper night owls get sleepy around 1 AM or 2 AM and aren't up and running until 11 AM. Unfortunately, this means a night owl's brain is still in "sleep mode" for the first two hours of work. Sure, they made it to work but are likely groggy, in a bad mood, and don't start functioning optimally for hours - wasting their time and yours. Night owls complete their workday deprived of several hours of sleep (and their innovative edge, which we'll discuss soon.)

If you're a morning lark, like 40% of employees, you can thank your genetics. You get sleepy around 9 PM or 10 PM (with some variation depending on age) and are up and running by 5 AM or 6 AM. This percentage of the population doesn't struggle to start working by 9 AM, but they are getting sleepy by the time they finish, meaning the time they spend completing evening activities like childcare, dinner, and household chores might be when they're already exhausted. For this reason, ending work earlier helps them to complete evening tasks while they still feel energized, a decision that has the potential to boost morale while they're at work as it improves overall quality of life.

The other 30% of the population is somewhere in between a lark and an owl but significantly closer to night owls. This group can also thank their genetics. This third group typically feels sleepy around 11 PM or 12 AM (with some variation) and becomes fully alert by around 10 AM. Waking up too early means they have to complete their day deprived of sleep.

How do you know who starts when?

Let your employees pick their start times because according to the Harvard Business Review, 92% of employees prefer high-freedom policies including the ability to choose when they have to be at work.4 Next, trust that they'll get the job done. Because they will, and they'll get the job done better if they have control over their start time.5

Here are a few key benefits of providing an asynchronous start time:

  • Night owls will stress less at night, which leads to better sleep. On the contrary, more stress leads to difficulty sleeping which itself causes stress and creates a vicious cycle. Knowing they can get the sleep they need to perform their best at work effectively alleviates this vicious cycle.

  • Morning larks can end their day earlier meaning they have energy for other aspects of their life.

  • All team members can improve their health, including reduced anxiety and depression, as well as a lower risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes which also promotes longevity in the workplace.

  • You are creating an inclusive work environment that supports diversity, equity, and inclusion since 1) women are 2 times as likely to suffer from insomnia than men6, 2) People of color are 2 times more likely to suffer from short sleep than white people7, and 3) 60% of your workforce is marginalized by current hours, thereby helping you attract and retain more diverse talent.

  • If you promote physical and mental health along with autonomy in the workplace, you may find that your employees stick around for longer.

Cutting Sleep Short Kills Your Innovative Edge and Stunts Company Growth

Why do we have our most innovative ideas after a night of great sleep? It's because of our dreams. When Einstein created his theory of relativity, he made that theory after having a dream. During REM sleep or dream sleep, our brain has "ah-ha moments" and makes connections that we can't produce while awake. In other words, we have dreams to thank for creative problem-solving.

The majority of REM sleep (when we dream) happens in the last 2 hours of sleep, so if your employees don't get a whole night of rest, they're missing out on this creative edge.

During his dream, Einstein's brain pieced together events from his life (what happened in his research and work) and had the ah-ha moment that only the dreaming brain can make. Voila! His Theory of Relativity was born!

Helping your employees get a whole night of sleep means they'll get much-needed REM, the magical part of the sleep cycle where creativity happens. Enabling a full sleep cycle helps your employees have their best ideas and solve problems creatively. Furthermore, allowing for an asynchronous start time means that every employee gets to have their best ideas. Maybe the Einsteins on your team are all of the night owls!

Sleep Improves Your Employees’ Physical Health and Mental Health and Is Directly Tied to Productivity

Physical Health Sleep impacts every organ and system of the body. Getting 8 hours of sleep helps prevent cardiovascular disease, weight gain, and diabetes, and improves health at work because:

  • Sleeping less than 6 hours each night increases your risk of heart diseases by 45%8
  • Sleeping fewer than 6 hours each night may increase caloric intake by 600 additional calories each day9
  • Over time, this calorie surplus can lead to blood sugar imbalances, and insufficient sleep makes you 56% more likely to develop type 2 diabetes10
  • Sleep also impacts an individual's response to vaccines, becoming more critical than ever, as we navigate a world where COVID is ongoing. Surprisingly, a lack of sleep makes vaccines less effective, with a weaker antibody response to the flu vaccine. Individuals from one study who slept fewer than 7 hours per night the week leading up to a vaccine had only 50% of the immune response11

Mental Health There is a strong link between mental well-being and sleep; they're bi-directional, meaning good sleep improves well-being and makes sleep easier. When your employees are tired, their anxiety increases, and they experience even more worry, as sleep deprivation spikes activity in the amygdala, the area of the brain associated with panic and fear.12

Anxiety and worry are the top causes of insomnia, so when worry and anxiety persist, it creates a vicious cycle for your employees.13

Sleep is the solution as it stops this vicious cycle. Furthermore, an asynchronous start time can alleviate this worry and anxiety and improve sleep.

Existing mental health solutions, while supportive, still fall short. Therapy improves mental well-being but requires significant time investment and typically only reaches people in a risk zone. Vacation or time-off is more like a bandaid solution - it’s only a short-term fix. Stress returns as soon as employees return to work. Not to mention, employees’ absence tanks work productivity and may negatively impact team members who have to pick up the slack.

However, a better night of sleep adjusted for chronotype directly impacts productivity at work, as individuals who have the opportunity to sleep according to their chronotype demonstrated a decrease in presenteeism (showing up to work but not performing optimally.)14

As you can see, looking at your employees holistically can help to improve their performance and morale, helping them cultivate job satisfaction as well as positive relationships with work peers. Directing your focus toward sleep addresses both employee and employer concerns as sleep is the catalyst for better cognitive performance, innovative thinking, a reduction in anxiety and depression, as well as optimal physical health. The "sleep third" of life impacts the rest of it.

If you’d like to learn more about how Chorus Sleep can support your organization, you may do so here.

Footnotes: 1. Yuki Noguchi. (2016, April 26). Many Grouchy, Error-Prone Workers Just Need More Sleep. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/04/26/475287202/many-grouchy-error-prone-workers-just-need-more-sleep 2. Van Dongen HP, Maislin G, Mullington JM, Dinges DF. The cumulative cost of additional wakefulness: dose-response effects on neurobehavioral functions and sleep physiology from chronic sleep restriction and total sleep deprivation. Sleep. 2003 Mar 15;26(2):117-26. doi: 10.1093/sleep/26.2.117. Erratum in: Sleep. 2004 Jun 15;27(4):600. PMID: 12683469. 3. Sylvia Ann Hewlett, Melinda Marshall, and Laura Sherbin. (2013, December). How Diversity Can Drive Innovation. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2013/12/how-diversity-can-drive-innovation 4. Nathaniel Koloc. (2014, November 10). Let Employees Choose When, Where, and How to Work. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2014/11/let-employees-choose-when-where-and-how-to-work 5. Blossom Yen-Ju Lin, Yung-Kai Lin, Cheng-Chieh Lin, Tien-Tse Lin, Job autonomy, its predispositions and its relation to work outcomes in community health centers in Taiwan, Health Promotion International, Volume 28, Issue 2, June 2013, Pages 166–177, https://doi.org/10.1093/heapro/dar091 6. Walker, Matthew. 2018. Why We Sleep. Harlow, England: Penguin Books. 7. Kingsbury JH, Buxton OM, Emmons KM. Sleep and its Relationship to Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Cardiovascular Disease. Curr Cardiovasc Risk Rep. 2013 Oct;7(5):10.1007/s12170-013-0330-0. doi: 10.1007/s12170-013-0330-0. PMID: 24244756; PMCID: PMC3824366. 8. Sofi, F., Cesari, F., Casini, A., Macchi, C., Abbate, R., & Gensini, G. F. (2014). Insomnia and risk of cardiovascular disease: a meta-analysis. European journal of preventive cardiology, 21(1), 57–64. https://doi.org/10.1177/2047487312460020 9. Greer, S. M., Goldstein, A. N., & Walker, M. P. (2013). The impact of sleep deprivation on food desire in the human brain. Nature communications, 4, 2259. https://doi.org/10.1038/ncomms3259 10. Francesco P. Cappuccio, Lanfranco D'Elia, Pasquale Strazzullo, Michelle A. Miller; Quantity and Quality of Sleep and Incidence of Type 2 Diabetes: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Diabetes Care 1 February 2010; 33 (2): 414–420. https://doi.org/10.2337/dc09-1124 11. Aric A. Prather, PhD, Martica Hall, PhD, Jacqueline M. Fury, BS, Diana C. Ross, MSN, RN, Matthew F. Muldoon, MD, MPH, Sheldon Cohen, PhD, Anna L. Marsland, PhD, RN, Sleep and Antibody Response to Hepatitis B Vaccination, Sleep, Volume 35, Issue 8, 1 August 2012, Pages 1063–1069, https://doi.org/10.5665/sleep.1990 12. Andrea N. Goldstein, Stephanie M. Greer, Jared M. Saletin, Allison G. Harvey, Jack B. Nitschke and Matthew P. Walker. Tired and Apprehensive: Anxiety Amplifies the Impact of Sleep Loss on Aversive Brain Anticipation. Journal of Neuroscience 26 June 2013, 33 (26) 10607-10615; DOI: https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.5578-12.2013 13. Staner L. (2003). Sleep and anxiety disorders. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience, 5(3), 249–258. https://doi.org/10.31887/DCNS.2003.5.3/lstaner 14. Akiyoshi Shimura, Katsunori Yokoib, Ko Sugiurac, Shinji Higashid, Takeshi Inouea. On workdays, earlier sleep for morningness and later wakeup for eveningness are associated with better work productivity. Sleep Medicine Volume 92, April 2022, Pages 73-80; DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sleep.2022.03.007