STAYING up late for a few nights to meet work deadlines may bring relief when the assignment is completed, but how will such an employee function at work the next day?
Tired employees are often in a foul mood. They cannot handle stress and may fly off the handle at the smallest offence. They are unable to think as clearly or imaginatively as others, and tasks are more challenging.
Researchers based at hospitals with sleep laboratories have charted the effects of a lack of sleep. Short-term effects include less healthy food choices, a higher likelihood of road accidents and being prone to infectious ailments. The person may be less gregarious and more emotional. Memory and focus suffer, and, most seriously, a recent study in the journal Sleep linked one night without sleep to a loss of brain tissue.
Long-term effects are more alarming: the risk of developing cancer may increase; obesity risk rises abruptly; the risk of having a stroke quadruples; people are more likely to develop heart disease or diabetes; and the sperm count in men decreases.
Another study shows that less than six hours of kip a night significantly increases mortality risk.
What can company directors and managers do to ensure employees function at their peak during the working day? Some have installed nap rooms or energy pods that allow workers to catch up on sleep.
Google, Procter & Gamble, Huffington Post and Nationwide Planning have incorporated napping into daily office life. Mike Karalewich, chief compliance officer of Nationwide Planning, swears by it, saying it “really allows me to approach the second half of the day with a lot more force”.
Nathaniel Hindman, a former editor and reporter at the Huffington Post, concurs: “Sleep makes us more productive, creative, less stressed and much healthier and happier.”
Irshaad Ebrahim, specialist neuropsychiatrist in sleep disorders at the Constantia Sleep Centre and the London Sleep Centre on Harley Street, says people don’t only need enough sleep, but enough “good sleep”. His “2-Q Rule of Sleep” is to seek both quality and quantity.
“The best measure of your sleep quality is how you feel when you wake up in the morning — if you are getting adequate quantity but still wake up unrefreshed, tired and feel sleepy during the daytime, you should book a sleep assessment at your nearest sleep centre,” he advises. “Common conditions that affect sleep quality are snoring, sleep apnoea, restless leg syndrome and medical conditions like cardiac disorders and diabetes.”
A University of California study found there are “short-sleepers”, who go to bed around midnight and wake each morning — between 4am and 5am — feeling completely refreshed.
Lead study author Ying-Hui Fu and her colleagues discovered a tiny mutation in the DEC2 gene that seemed present in “short-sleepers”, who function just as well on limited sleep as those who get eight hours.
According to Fu, “Sleep is vitally important. If you sleep well, you can avoid many diseases, even dementia.”
The brain performs repair work on its cells during sleep, removing toxins, restoring energy levels and laying down memories for future reference.
Fu says many people who thought they were short-sleepers volunteered for the study and discovered they were suffering from insomnia. “We wanted to focus on people who slept for just a few hours and still felt great. These individuals are all very energetic, very optimistic. It’s very common for them to feel they want to cram as much into life as they can, but we’re not sure how or whether this is related to their gene mutations.”
While Ebrahim believes that the decision by some corporates to enhance sleep health by installing nap rooms or pods is admirable, he says the focus should be on the reasons people need daytime naps.
Companies should instead tackle the underlying causes of the sleep debt — the amount of sleep a brain is deprived of and needs to repay. “Once we address the underlying causes, there may well be no need for sleep pods at work,” he says.