In my role as a leader, I have become an evangelist about healthy sleep. I am exploring how sleep correlates to my overall well-being, the health of my employees, and ultimately its effect on the bottom line. Could a well rested, eight hours a night for every employee be the new competitive advantage?
This is an important conversation for us all to engage in, and experts such as Dr. Charles Czeisler, head of Harvard's Division of Sleep Medicine, and others are convinced that the role of corporate America is to lead a social revolution making sleep the third pillar of health. The sleep experts are leading the charge, along with influencers from a variety of industries and communities.
This past May in Cambridge, Mass. I had the opportunity to attend the first ever Harvard Corporate Sleep Summit. Julia Kirby of the Harvard Business Review was present along with myself, our ICAN Board Chair Scott Focht and fellow representatives from Procter & Gamble, Twitter, Sysco, Wal-Mart and Eli Lilly.
The conversation was dynamic and enlightening. So, what if we all "woke up" to the reality that healthy sleep leads to better outcomes, happier lives and a more productive society? What if our employees were not required to be "on 24-7," but rather alive with energy and fully engaged? Could we have, as a nation, a new competitive advantage if companies across the country took a stand that sleep was the third pillar of health, alongside diet and exercise?
Three years later, I now average six to seven hours of sleep and am working my way to eight. On my personal journey to healthy sleep, I have learned what constitutes unhealthy sleep and the deadly link to heart disease, depression, attention deficit, and so many other physical and emotional issues.
Here are a few facts on how this movement might contribute to a thriving individual, team and organization:
- Acute or chronic insomnia affects nearly a quarter of all U.S. workers, resulting in 367 million lost workdays per year and a cost to employers of nearly63.2 billion annually in medical expenses and lost productivity. (The Fiscal Times, July 2013, "How a bad night's sleep can ruin your career")
- Lack of sleep affects the prefrontal cortex of the brain, the area that controls innovation, self-control and creativity.
- Sleep deprivation affects an employee's learning, memory, critical problem solving, ethical decision making, creativity and innovation in the workplace. (The Fiscal Times, July 2013, "How a bad night's sleep can ruin your career")
- Sleep loss can impair judgment, impacts the frontal lobe of the brain and has negative effects on decision-making such as sensitivity to risk-taking, moral reasoning and inhibitions. (Maclean's, June 2013, "The Sleep Crisis")
- Changing work cultures and constant connection to smartphones and digital devices is wreaking havoc with many Americans' sleep patterns. (Huffington Post, May 2013, "5 Things You Should Know About Sleep Health in the Workplace)
I first heard the statement "sleep is the new sex" from Marian Salzman, a futurist and trend analyst who spoke at our 2009 ICAN Women's Leadership Conference. In other words, no longer was seeking intimacy at the end of our long day a priority, but rather the deliciousness of uninterrupted sleep.
At that time I hadn't slept for a year -- at least not through the night -- and as for sex, well -- whatever! I woke up exhausted, feeling burdened by the 3 a.m. endless, often torturous conversations with only myself. Those diatribes meticulously reviewed every single aspect of my life -- money, work, relationships, career, family and the minutia of the everyday -- all the way through my life until I died. Which, by 6 o'clock in the morning, I was convinced was imminent.
I am here to tell you -- a good night's sleep is better than sex, and if you have healthy sleep, you may once again want sex. The world looks brighter already, doesn't it?