How Can Employers Help?
There are a variety of ways employers can help ensure employees get adequate rest including:
- Educate employees about the importance of good sleep hygiene
- Develop internal policies that support good sleep hygiene
- Help employees understand how to select and buy a comfortable bed
- Provide gold standard stress reduction courses that help employees worry less and sleep more
Educate employees about the importance of good sleep hygiene
Good sleep hygiene isn’t something you do just at bedtime. Choices we make throughout the day affect the quality of sleep we enjoy at night. Common recommendations for good sleep hygiene include:
- Managing stress
- Exercise, but not near bedtime (except yoga)
- Spend time outside during the day, especially early in the morning (consider walking meetings during the morning hours)
- Avoid fluids before bed, especially alcohol and caffeine
- Stop using electronic devices at least thirty minutes before bed
- Turn off notifications on your phone
- Go to bed early enough that you have plenty of time to get the sleep you need
- Sleep in a cool, dark room
Improving sleep hygiene helps with both going to sleep faster and with staying asleep longer.
Develop internal policies that support good sleep hygiene
Company expectations can have a significant impact on sleep quality. Ideally, work stops at the end of the business day. If it doesn’t, develop a policy that places a curfew on business phone calls, emails, and text messages. Many companies have unwritten expectations that require employees to remain vigilant responding to emails and text messages after hours. For example, my husband worked as a consultant at a dysfunctional hospital in Georgia last year where he would receive non-emergency text messages from the CEO and General Counsel as late as 11:30 p.m. when he had to be at work by 7:30 a.m. the next morning. Their HR department had to deal with several employee complaints about text message disagreements that occurred late at night. I have often wondered how much of the dysfunction in that organization was due to bad decision-making caused by sleep deprivation. A year later, only one member of their management staff remains.
Another important policy is to develop a culture that encourages adjustments in the schedule when an employee hasn’t had adequate sleep. I used to take frequent business trips to Holland, Michigan. Several times, my return flight from Detroit was delayed so that I arrived at my home airport between 1 and 2 a.m. On those nights, when I finally got home, I would turn off my alarm clock and wake up naturally. I’d arrive at work around 10 a.m. The first time it happened, I had a conversation with my boss during which I told him, “You’re paying me for my brain to be here, not my body. My brain doesn’t come to work with when I don’t get enough sleep.” It’s far better for me to arrive late and be able to do my job well than it is for me to arrive on time and do a poor job all day. This policy wouldn’t accommodate late-night Netflix binges, of course, but it would accommodate ER visits, travel delays during business trips, and other emergency or uncontrollable situations.
Help employees understand how to select and buy a comfortable bed
This isn’t a suggestion you’ll see on most lists, but it is important. I recently shopped for a new mattress. I’m a researcher. Before I spend thousands of dollars on a product, I do a fair amount of research. If your employees don’t do this, they could get stuck with a mattress that isn’t comfortable and a bunch of stress and frustration that is avoidable. A comfortable mattress can help an employee fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. It can also reduce the frequency the person’s sleep is disturbed by a restless partner. An uncomfortable mattress makes getting enough sleep impossible.
If you’re familiar with the ancient use of a trapping pit to hunt big game animals where a hole is dug in the ground and covered with leaves and branches in order to catch a big animal, you have a visual of the way many mattress stores treat their customer’s money. It took me a week of research to figure this out. I spent hours every night looking for a mattress store that was trustworthy, reliable and didn’t pose the risk that I’d be stuck with an uncomfortable new mattress. The search was pointless. All of them use what I now refer to as a money pit strategy on their unsuspecting customers. When I expressed my frustration, my daughter suggested I look at buying the mattress online. I resisted because you couldn’t try it first. That’s when I learned that online mattresses come directly from manufacturers, most of whom are very interested in building trust. They offer free, no-risk, money-back sleep trials where you can sleep on their mattress for months before you make your final decision!
There’s a great guide that can save your employees a lot of time when they need a new mattress. I spent at least ten hours researching before I gave up on buying a mattress locally. If you have 1,000 employees, that’s 10,000 hours you can save them by letting them know that their risk is lower when they buy online. It’s counter-intuitive. You would think you’d do better locally but the mattress industry is in the middle of a disruption and the mattress stores haven’t adjusted. Their policies are still designed to protect the store, not the customer. They cannot compete with manufacturers who want satisfied customers. The guide covers more over 50 stores, half of them are stores and the other half are online manufacturers who sell direct to the customer.
An old mattress can reduce sleep quality. Old mattresses can also cause pain and stiffness in the morning that people attribute to aging until they buy the right new mattress and it suddenly disappears.
If an employee buys the wrong mattress at the wrong place, they could be stuck with an uncomfortable mattress that negatively impacts their work performance and their relationships. The no money back policies at local mattress stores can leave the consumer stuck with a mattress that prevents them from getting a good night’s sleep. Give your employees information so they don’t fall into the pit.
Teach employees gold standard stress reduction skills so they worry less and sleep more
Stressing out over things going on at work or home interfere with sleep. Stress about situations in our lives is about the way we perceive them. We can reduce stress by learning to perceive things differently. All my books provide strategies that help to reduce perceived stress.
A new form of Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT-i) has been developed to treat insomnia. Shifting the way we perceive situations away from negative viewpoints to more positive ones is an effective way to treat insomnia. I can attest to this. While I didn’t use CBT-i, I did teach myself to be more positive about things and it made a significant difference. Before I changed my habits of thought, I had trouble going to sleep and would wake up and stress in the middle of the night. After 911, I used sleeping pills for a year because I couldn’t control my worried thoughts. Now, I’m usually asleep within 60 seconds of putting my head on the pillow. It’s rare for me to be awake for more than five minutes when I want to sleep.
Sleep is important to individual and corporate well-being. While you can’t make an employee go to bed, you can create a culture that supports being well-rested. It’s important to note that well-rested employees are only better in comparison to the sleep-deprived employees. Neither scenario represents the best possible outcome unless the employees also have well-developed stress management skills. Applying gold standard stress management skills improves performance and reduces workplace under all conditions. Great stress management skills won’t restore the missed sleep, but they can make the difference between someone who has a meltdown and someone who recognizes they are on the edge and does the self-care necessary to prevent a meltdown.
- CEO Nightmare: An amalgamation of images from Pixabay.com that were available under creative commons
- All other images created by the author