Monday, 12 February 2018

Get more sleep

We need to learn to take it easy:
Futures Forum: Getting the balance right and avoiding burnout

And this might actually be good for all of us:
Futures Forum: Live more: work less... earn less... spend less... emit and degrade less

Companies are seeing the benefits of a little more sleep:

Is it a dream come true? Employers encourage staff to get more sleep

Friday February 2nd 2018

It cannot be often – except perhaps in the president’s own head – that Donald Trump is compared to Winston Churchill. Yet the heroic saviour of his nation from foreign invaders and, erm, Mr Trump, do apparently have one thing in common: four hours of sleep a night.

Along with Margaret Thatcher, another alpha-leader who famously needed only four hours shut-eye, both men are part of what the Wall Street Journal once termed the “sleepless elite”, high-flyers who can get by on well below the seven to nine hours’ kip that most of us crave. “How does somebody that’s sleeping 12 and 14 hours a day compete with someone that’s sleeping three or four?”, The Donald asked during an interview with Fox News early last year, claiming that his parsimonious approach to snoozing has helped him succeed as a business mogul.

Behind the times

One can draw one’s own conclusions about the merits of the president’s decision-making and whether he should catch some more z’s. But aside from that, Mr Trump’s trumpeting of his low-sleep regime is somewhat behind the times.

Sleep, at a time when we are getting less and less of it thanks to longer hours, longer commutes and 24/7 connectedness, is the business world’s new best friend. 
So much so that a UK employers’ organisation called Business in the Community has partnered with Public Health England to produce a “sleep toolkit” offering advice on how to ensure that staff are getting enough rest.

Managers should be trained to spot signs of sleep deprivation, the guidance says, citing research from Rand suggesting the problem costs the UK economy around £30bn and 200,000 working days a year. Companies should also “create quiet spaces for rest and relaxation, where employees can switch off completely from work for a period,” which will help them to sleep better at night and improve productivity and customer service.

Power napping

It does not go so far as to advocate full-blown sleeping facilities in most workplaces – Justin Varney of Public Health England said the evidence in favour of this was not strong enough to do so – but judging by the behaviour of some modern employers, Churchill might have been ahead of his time. The wartime Prime Minister supplemented his four hour nocturnal snooze with a two-hour nap at 5pm (preceded by a whiskey and soda; not in the sleep toolkit). This, he claimed, allowed him to fit 1.5 days’ work into 24 hours.

A similar kind of enlightened self-interest could lie behind the installation of high-tech ‘sleep pods’ at Google’s headquarters in London and elsewhere, or an initiative at Nike’s headquarters in Portland, Oregon, that offers employees hours that suit their chronotype – the biological clock that dictates whether you are naturally an early riser or a midnight oil-burner.

Gary Oldman plays Winston Churchill, another famous light sleeper, in The Darkest Hour. Photo: Universal Pictures

In some cases, sleeping on the job can be a matter of life and death.

“Some of the busiest times for our controllers are in the middle of the night when flights from North America are flying towards the UK, and in the early morning when these flights are landing and flights to Europe are taking off,” says Neil May, Head of Human Factors at NATS, the UK’s main air traffic control provider. At these times, the body is saying I want to be asleep but we need our controllers to be at their peak human performance.”

To get around this, NATS positively encourages napping – or even a couple of hours’ kip during night shifts. Controllers at the Swanwick and Prestwick sites can retreat to bedrooms at pre-organised break times, ensuring they are “fully alert for the busy early morning rush of traffic”.

The sleep phase

Dr Guy Meadows, clinical director of The Sleep School, which offers education and training for corporate clients including Lloyds, Nestle and Unilever, says that “a trickle has become a torrent” when it comes to businesses wanting their staff to sleep better. “I’ve been in this sector long enough now to recognise what is a complete cultural change. It used to be ‘sleeping is cheating’, if you could have four hours then get to the gym and a power breakfast you were one of the power people.”

At least seven hours sleep will help keep you mentally sharp in older age, a recent report indicated. Photo: Getty

He suggests that somewhere between noon and 3pm, when there is a natural dip in our alertness, is a “natural opportunity to seek out rest” at work, with research suggesting that a nap will likely improve our performance for the rest of the day. Having been through phases as a society where we were obsessed with exercise and then food, he adds, “now we are in the sleep phase; we are all desperately trying to understand how to improve our sleep”.
‘The right to disconnect’

Elsewhere, the focus is as much on switching off as nodding off. Amid a growing awareness that our round-the-clock interconnectedness is making it harder for many to mentally detach from work when they leave the office, French employees now have a legal “right to disconnect” and not answer emails outside of working hours.

German car manufacturer Daimler offers its staff an optional function that automatically bins any email received while an employee is on holiday. Instead of an out of office message, the sender is issued with a notification that begins: “I am on vacation. I cannot read your email. Your email is being deleted.”

Tim Cook gets up at 3.45am every day. Photo: Getty

And while there are still those who very publicly excel while eschewing slumber – Apple CEO Tim Cook reportedly rises at 3.45am – there is also a move away from the mind-set in which, as Ariana Huffington put it, “sleep deprivation has become a virility symbol”. The Huffington Post founder, 67, woke up in a pool of blood in 2007, having hit her head after collapsing from exhaustion. Since then, she has become an advocate of more – and better – sleep, criticising those who equate working longer with talent or leadership. She is not the only business leader to learn the hard way about the body’s need for sleep.

A risk to business

António Horta Osório, the chief executive of Lloyds bank, was forced to take two months off in 2011, including a stint at the private Priory Hospital, to address his stress-induced insomnia. He has said that he didn’t sleep properly for five days as he fought to steady the bank during that year’s eurozone crisis, and later told The Independent: “I understand now why they use sleep deprivation to torture prisoners.”

Louise Aston, Wellbeing Director at Business in the Community and one of their sleep toolkit’s creators, said sleep is “the new emerging hot topic” among its corporate members, amid a growing focus on wellbeing at work. It is “annoying that President Trump keeps on banging on about how little sleep he gets,” she says. “Back in the good old Thatcher days it was all really macho to survive on ridiculously little sleep but that is just plain irresponsible… it is a risk to the business.”

And it is not only those at the top who are taking shut-eye more seriously. Not content with the time-honoured tradition of falling asleep during lectures, students at some universities now have dedicated facilities for dozing off. The ‘Zzz Zone’ at Manchester has a Google-style pod, while the ‘nap nook’ at the University of East Anglia’s student union can be pre-booked for 40 minute slots but is – before anyone gets any ideas – monitored by CCTV.

Perhaps our undergraduates are answering the call issued by Ariana Huffington at the TedWomen conference three years after her collapse: “We are literally going to sleep our way to the top.”

More sleep for staff as employers encourage better rest

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