Could Your Company Benefit from a Sleep Policy?

Do you work at an office where people who leave by 5:30 are considered wimps?  Is a 60-80 hour work week the norm at your company?  Are you surrounded by highly caffeinated “zombies” who ingest tons of coffee just to keep themselves upright at work?  If you've answered yes to any of these questions, there's a high likelihood that sleep deprivation is the norm at your place of employment.  According to Harvard Business Review, that's bad for a number of reasons.

As HBR reports in Sleep Deficit: The Performance Killer, there are many ways our cognitive skills suffer from a lack of sleep including: slower reaction times, impeded judgment, interference with problem-solving, and grogginess.

While these impacts may not seem like a big deal, Dr. Charles A. Czeisler, the Baldino Professor of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, says that sleep deprivation is not just an individual health hazard, it's a public one.  For instance, when his research team studied sleep-deprived hospital interns, they found that interns' “odds of stabbing themselves with a scalpel or needle increased 61%, their risk of crashing a motor vehicle increased 168%, and their risk of a near miss increased 460%.”

Czeisler suggests that rather than viewing sleep deprivation with machismo, that instead individuals—and corporations—take it seriously.  In fact, he suggests that businesses develop a sleep policy which would look something like this:

  • Limit Daily Work.  Ideally, employees would work no more than 12 hours a day and definitely never more than 16 hours a day.

  • Limit Weekly Work.  Czeisler suggests that employees shouldn't be scheduled to work more than 60 hours a week and they should be prevented from working beyond 80.

  • Give Adequate Days Off.  The more nights in a row we don't get enough sleep, the more sleep we require to get caught up.  To prevent this type of growing sleep deprivation, Czeisler says that ideally, employees shouldn't be scheduled more than 4-5 days in a row, and they should never be scheduled to work more than 6 consecutive days.