Why the corporate world is waking up to the importance of sleep

Despite business leaders such as Twitter’s Jack Dorsey and Yahoo’s Marissa Meyer famously claiming that their minimalist approach to sleep was a key factor in their success, there is a new sleep revolution sweeping across the corporate world, turning the maxim that the less you sleep the better, on its head.

In the last few years we have experienced this first hand, with an increasing demand for our corporate sleep programme from HRs needing a solution for exhausted and run-down teams. Whether a breaking point has finally arrived thanks to smartphone technology and its ‘always-on’ hangover, or whether it reflects a commitment to science-informed wellness programmes, businesses finally have an appetite for a well-rested workforce…and it can’t have come soon enough.

A survey of three FTSE 100 companies reported that 64% of employees regularly wake up feeling either ‘not very refreshed’ or ‘not at all refreshed’ and 23% reported that poor sleep and tiredness impacted their ability to do their job either ‘very much so’ or ‘a lot’.(1) And with a national survey of UK working adults reporting that 46% regularly slept only 5-6 hours a night instead of the recommended 7-8 hours, it is clear to see why.

For years, sleep has often been labelled as ‘the most powerful performance enhancer known to humankind’ but it is not until now, after decades of scientific research, that the weight of this claim can be fully understood. And corporates are firmly picking up the baton.

One such discovery is the fact that our prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for our advanced cognitive and emotional performance, is most vulnerable to sleep deprivation. The prefrontal cortex, or frontal lobe, is the brain’s business powerhouse. In charge of abstract thinking and thought analysis, it is the area of the brain responsible for delivering our most advanced cognitive work – not to mention setting its groundwork through focus and concentration. Research shows that if you regularly experience poor sleep you are three times as likely to lack concentration during the working day and struggle to ‘get things done'(2).

The vulnerability of our pre-frontal cortex to lack of sleep also explains why we feel more stressed after a night of poor sleep. Neuroimaging studies reveal that a sleep deprived brain spends more time in the amygdala, the primitive threat detecting part of our brain. The net result is that we tend to view ourselves, others and the world around us in a more negative light, something which results in us over reacting to emotional events and experiencing more negative emotions (3)

For savvy HRs, the critical connection between sleep and daytime performance, as well as how well we handle stress, is clear. Employees who make their sleep a priority will perform better at work and it is something which can be improved relatively simply with the right know-how and departmental analysis. HRs looking to make a big difference to their company’s bottom line could do worse than investing in some team shut-eye – it could prove to be the business’ biggest asset.

Key insights from the Sleep To Perform programme

1 Sleep and stress – they are more connected than you think

The intimate connection between sleep and stress is not widely understood. Although it is obvious that the stress of the day is likely to keep you awake at night, it is also the case that if you sleep less you will feel and act more stressed. This means a vicious cycle of stress and sleeplessness can easily take hold, with employees not realising that if they break this and get some sleep they will have a stronger emotional resilience to daytime stressors. Companies spending thousands in solutions for employee stress often see immediate benefits when their workforce is getting sufficient sleep at night.

2 ‘Always on’ means you can’t turn off

One of the practical skills we give employees on our programme is the capacity to fall asleep more quickly and easily. Key to this is setting boundaries around using work phones or logging onto laptops too close to bedtime. Blue light emitted from screens mimics daylight, tricking our brains into a state of alertness and blocking our body’s natural signals to get ready for sleep with the onset of night.

3 You might survive on five hours sleep but you won’t perform or feel at your best

In a sleep deprivation study, 480 store managers from Bensons for Beds were challenged to work at their best when they were deliberately forced to sleep less. After just four nights of 25% less sleep (e.g. 8hrs to 6hrs) cognitive and emotional performance was significantly reduced in the performance of the managers with 38% showing a decrease in problem solving skills, 29% with worse communication and 28% experiencing a decrease in memory recall. The biggest impact however, was on the managers’ moods, with a collective 281% increase in negative mood.

4 Sunday night insomnia, the battle which can be won by not trying

Sunday night is by far the most common evening for people to struggle with insomnia. This is largely due to the pressures and worries which mount up for the week ahead and the thought that you ‘must’ sleep so you can cope with work in the morning. This can result in a big struggle during the night to get off to sleep, and the more you fight not sleeping, the less likely you will be able to fall asleep. On Sleep To Perform, employees are given practical insights into how to overcome this deadlock, allowing them to drop-off easily, even when the pressure to get off to sleep is at its most strong eg: before a big presentation or during a period of increased pressure.

For more information, or to book a Sleep To Perform programme, visit https://www.sleeptoperform.uk/