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boost your career by getting better sleep - image of professional woman at work

The Fastest Way to Boost Your Career

“Who has time to sleep?”

It’s a question Terry Cralle, a Washington, D.C.-based registered nurse and sleep educator, hears all the time. “A lot of people have internalized the idea that sleep is for the weak,” she says. “If I’m sleeping so much, there is something wrong with my willpower or character.”

Although Cralle and other sleep educators have put out a lot of information about sleep hygiene, “people aren’t going to practice these habits until they get to a ‘why,'” she says. “They still see sleep as unproductive. They’re not seeing that if we get sufficient sleep, our waking hours are going to be so much more productive. We’ll do more, better, and more accurately.” (Cralle is a frequent contributor to Saatva on the subject of sleep health; see her columns here.)

It’s not surprising that our work-driven culture envies the sleep habits of those the Wall Street Journal calls the “Sleepless Elite”—highly successful and wealthy individuals who claim not to need the seven to eight hours experts consider the amount of sleep required to function at our best.

Most famously, of course, is our current president. For decades Donald Trump has boasted of the short, three- to four-hour sleep schedule that his wee-hour tweets have confirmed to the world.

There are others too, of course. Indra Nooyi, the chair and CEO of PepsiCo, sleeps only five hours a day. SpaceX and Tesla founder Elon Musk says he can’t sleep more than 6.5 hours because his mental sharpness falls.

Yet other equally successful and wealthy people clearly state that they relish their full night’s sleep. Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon and the world’s richest man, tries for a nightly eight hours. Microsoft founder Bill Gates gets at least seven hours of sleep. And after collapsing from sleep deprivation, Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington became a champion of healthy sleep.

The high cost of sleep shaming

It doesn’t help when friends and colleagues suggest there is something wrong with us for wanting to sleep—a phenomenon Cralle calls “sleep shaming.”

“We need to put sleep shaming to bed because it has done enormous harm,” she says. “We’re so apologetic about needing sleep. It’s crazy!”

Recent research backs her up. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine reports in a new study that lack of sleep takes a serious toll on work productivity. Insomnia had the greatest impact among the 1,007 study participants between ages 22-60. Even those with mild insomnia experienced 58% more productivity loss than those who slept well.

People with daytime sleepiness—usually meaning they didn’t get adequate rest the night before—had 50% more productivity loss. Those who slept five to six hours experienced 19% more productivity loss than those who got seven to eight hours of sleep. Those who slept less than five hours had 29% more productivity loss.

The new study confirms a 2007 study of 4,188 employees at four U.S. corporations. The earlier study found that those with insomnia and insufficient sleep had significantly worse productivity and safety outcomes. It estimated fatigue-related annual losses at $1,967 per employee ($2,202.94 in 2018 dollars), and even higher for those with insomnia—$3,156 per employee ($3,855.45 in 2018). Altogether, the researchers estimated the four companies each year stood to lose tens of million dollars every year because of employees’ poor sleep.

“Many people believe that in order to get more done, they need to sacrifice sleep,” says the new study’s coauthor Michael Grandner, PhD, director of the Sleep and Health Research Program and assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Tucson. “This study shows that, quite to the contrary, poor sleep is associated with lower productivity in general, and specifically across a wide range of areas.”

The authors say their findings make it clear that sleep should be an important element in workplace health. In fact, an increasing number of employers agree.

Helping employees sleep well serves the bottom line

Vicki Salemi, a careers expert at Monster.com, says companies are emphasizing the importance of their employees’ overall wellness and how it impacts not only their productivity but their happiness. “Companies are thinking about retention and are genuinely concerned about their employees as people,” she says.

An important step for businesses, Salemi says, is changing the culture and conversation around sleep. Instead of rewarding employees who brag about their lack of sleep—“I only got four hours of sleep last night, but I got the report done for this morning”—Salemi says companies should help shift the discussion to one about how much better people can perform when they are well rested.

“It should not be a badge of courage that you’ve only gotten four hours of sleep,” she says. “Hopefully the stigma for sleep is reversed. That has to start from all levels of the organization.”

Some businesses are already getting the message. Management consulting firm McKinsey & Company reports that 70% of leaders in a recent survey said that sleep management should be taught in organizations, along with “a broader approach to well-being that takes in other topics, notably exercise, nutrition, mindfulness, and energy management.”

Forbes reports that companies such as Olympus, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Unilever are sending their employees to a sleep course, while Inc. reports that a growing number of companies—Uber and Google among them—are encouraging naps and even providing “nap pods” and quiet spaces for employees to refresh themselves in an officially sanctioned siesta. (Here’s why napping is good for you.)

Still others are shifting their internal policies as they realize the negative effect “always on” workplace culture has on workers’ ability to sleep and, therefore, perform at their best. Volkswagen, for example, has put limits on after-hours email. France actually passed a law in 2017 requiring businesses with more than 50 employees to establish email policies that specify the hours when employees may not send or respond to work email.

So if you want to get more done in 2019…

Of course, the bottom line for you, dear reader, is being happy and healthy. The gift of good sleep you give yourself will definitely keep on giving, in every area of your life—from your personal health to your work productivity.

If the research is correct, the improvements you make in your sleep habits will become self-reinforcing. Making time for, and getting, good sleep will become one of the best habits you’ll ever develop.

“Sleep is the foundation of our personal health and productivity in every area of our lives,” says Terry Cralle, adding for emphasis, “not just a foundation, but the foundation.”

To set yourself up for sleep success, try these 10 nighttime activities that will help you relax.