October 4, 2013
Want workers to be healthier, more productive? Ask them to sleep more
Jim Maas has a simple answer for employers who want to contain escalating health-care costs and increase productivity, job satisfaction and creativity: Encourage your workers to get one more hour of sleep each night.
Most adults need 7.5 to 8.5 hours of shut-eye per night. A few can get away with 6.5; others need more than 10. But Maas, 75, a pioneer in sleep research, says that almost everyone is running on a 47- to 60-minute deficit.
That might not sound like much, but it’s enough to create a zombie nation.
“When you add one hour of sleep, most people say, ‘My gosh! I never knew what it was like to be awake and alert before,’ ” he says. “It’s a profound difference.”
Maas, retired chair of the psychology department at Cornell University, now has a Texas-based consulting business, Sleep for Success. In the past four decades, he has given thousands of talks trying to persuade companies that a sleep-deprived workforce is a drain on their bottom lines.
“People who aren’t getting enough sleep are much more at risk for hypertension, heart attacks, strokes, Type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea, periodontal disease, obesity and cancer,” Maas says. “Then there are the issues of mental and emotional health. All of that translates to higher insurance costs.”
Add in employees who are experiencing slumps in creativity and alertness, and those who are grumpy from too little sleep, and companies have real cause for alarm.
Younger members of the workforce, those under 26, need 9.25 hours of sleep to handle a spurt in growth hormones, he says.
Ken Blanchard, author of “One Minute Manager,” says his friend Maas is on to something big.
“Wall Street has goofed up business because it acts like the only reason to be in business is to make money,” Blanchard says. “Sometimes, we need to kick our people out of the office, get them home to their families and to rest.”
The medical profession has started to embrace the importance of sleep only in the past decade, Maas says. “The bedroom was ignored and thought to be a vast wasteland of inactivity. Nothing could be further from the truth.”
We need sleep to reset and maintain our endocrine, hormone, immunity and cardiac functions, he says. “The brain is more active at night than it ever is during the day.”
Maas taught introductory psychology to 65,000 students during his 48 years at Cornell. He was an on-campus celebrity who packed almost 2,000 students into the university’s concert hall every semester.
When he started teaching in 1964, textbooks had only a few paragraphs about sleep. “Since kids are always tired in college, I wanted to know why,” he recalls. “And if we spend two-thirds of our lives doing something, I thought it ought to be part of a psychology course.”
As a young professor, Maas was lucky to get six hours of sleep. Today, he almost religiously gets eight hours. When travel interferes, he takes a power nap. He coined that term 38 years ago while consulting with IBM's fast-track executive program.
At the time, the business buzz was all about “power breakfasts” and “power lunches.” He thought he had a more powerful idea. Instead of a mid-afternoon caffeine pick-me-up, Maas suggested a 10- to 15-minute power nap that could re-energize people without making them groggy or preventing them from falling asleep that night.
So are you sleep-deprived? If you fall asleep the minute your head hits the pillow, the answer is yes, he says. “It takes about 20 minutes for the well-rested person to fall asleep.”
You may be sabotaging the onset of sleep if you — like many Americans — use electronic devices an hour before hitting the sack.
They emit blue-spectrum light that inhibits the release of melatonin, the hormone that facilitates sleep. Maas says iPads are the worst offenders.
Trying to make up a sleep deficit on the weekend is like being sedentary during the workweek and trying to diet and exercise it off on Saturday and Sunday, he says: “Doesn’t work.”
And it upsets your natural rhythm, he says. “You need a regular sleep/wake schedule Monday to Monday,” Maas says. “Otherwise, you’re in a state of perpetual jet lag without leaving home.”
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