If all the employees at a company aren’t sleeping well, their office might have something to do with it.
Most people spend a significant amount of time at their workplace, often about half their waking day or more. It’s only logical that an environment where people spend so much of their time can have an affect, and sleeping habits are one particular area of interest.
While sleep is not often a top priority for management or businesses in office environments, how fatigued or well-rested employees feel can have a big impact on their motivation, creativity and performance.
Yet why should sleep be a concern to managers and entrepreneurs? Isn’t how much or little people rest on their own time their own problem?
Well, research indicates that certain environmental and cultural factors within a company could affect employees’ (and an entrepreneur's) sleep, for better or worse.
Make natural lighting a focal point.
Lighting can play a role. Humans' internal sleep-wake clocks control when they feel tired or alert. This biological function is partially regulated by sunlight exposure, which can be scarce in many offices.
Researchers for a 2012 Swiss study found natural light exposure boosts productivity, and another recent study at Northwestern University found that the type of light in workspaces can affect people’s natural rhythms.
Workers whose offices had windows received more natural sunlight (“white light”) slept longer, obtained better quality sleep and had a superior quality of life, compared with those who had little natural sunlight exposure.
To maximize advantages, the researchers suggested placing employee workstations within 20 to 25 feet of windows. In offices with few or no windows, managers could consider creating outdoor break spaces or otherwise incorporating natural sunlight, particularly in the morning.
Encourage staff to take regular breaks.
Office work these days usually revolves around computers, but hours in front of a screen can also affect rest. A 2007 study by Japanese researchers found that workers who spent more than six hours in front of computer screens were more likely to have insomnia, shorter sleep and daytime fatigue.
In many jobs, extended computer time is simply unavoidable, but allowing or encouraging frequent breaks for stepping away from the screen, stretching or taking a minute outside could help minimize effects.
Another factor to consider is activity levels. In many offices, people are sedentary most of the day working on computers or other desk-bound chores. But, extended sedentary activity has been linked to daytime sleepiness in people with sleep apnea -- not to mention health problem.
One way to counteract this would be to provide standing work spaces or encourage periodic breaks to move around and stretch. Even a quick walk or short bursts of activity during the day can help.
Reposition the company’s sleep culture.
A company's culture can show that it values or devalues rest and healthy-living matters.
Some corporate cultures encourage watercooler bragging about who is most sleep deprived and late nights in pursuit of deadlines. But is that really the ideal philosophy for a company in the long run?
Promoting healthy habits can help keep employees mentally fresh, creative and motivated, avoiding the burnout and fatigue that comes with long-term sleep deprivation.
Research on sleep deprivation places people at greater risk for developing certain illnesses. Drowsiness reduces learning, memory, problem solving skills, reaction time. Sleepy workers are also more likely to make errors on the job and are at increased risk for automobile accidents.
Allow for regulated nap time
While it might seem initially counterintuitive to encourage employees to take a snooze, quick naps are supported quite well by science.
Numerous studies show that napping improves alertness, learning and problem solving while reducing fatigue and stress. Naps of 10 to 30 minutes are thought to be best at improving alertness without causing sleep inertia.
In light of mounting research showing the multifaceted importance of sleep, several progressive companies have started to encourage positive sleep habits, including naps during the day.
Tech companies like HubSpot and Google promote private nap spaces and positive sleep break philosophies, as do a diverse range of businesses and organizations, including The Huffington Post, Ben & Jerry’s and Nike. And NASA has done its own research on the subject showing the value of naps.
At my mattress company, Amerisleep, having a nap room seemed like a natural fit for the office. I encourage my employees to take a quick break if they think it will help them feel recharged. For me personally, I know a 10- or 20-minute afternoon nap provides a helpful boost when I have a busy schedule.
While not every office has the extra space or budget to dedicate to a nap room, managers could still create a nap-friendly environment by making it clear that it is OK to rest within cubicles or other designated areas during break times or whenever it makes sense for the office.
By promoting habits like taking frequent computer breaks and putting sleep on the agenda, business owners, managers and employees alike can create a healthier work environment more supportive of better sleep and long-term productivity.