Why Major Corporations Now Realize They Can't 'Outsource Sleep'

The #SleepRevolution has arrived at your desk.

In our lightning-fast, on-demand, plugged-in workforce, top executives can outsource pretty much any task they can't find the time or energy to do themselves. 

Except, of course, sleep. 

Lately, a growing wave of top business leaders have been pulling out all the creative stops to encourage employees to get more sleep. Executives from Aetna's Mark Bertolini to Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg have made statements about the importance of rest to their companies' success.

It's the sign of a shifting paradigm that has leaders asking their colleagues to work smarter, not harder. And smarter, as it turns out, means more and better sleep. 

An employee takes a nap in a nap pod which blocks out light and sound at the Google headquarters in Mountain View, California
An employee takes a nap in a nap pod which blocks out light and sound at the Google headquarters in Mountain View, California

A host of corporations known for long working hours are now urging longer sleeping hours, instead. Aetna, for example, is offering to pay its employees up to $300 per year if they get seven hours per night, plus an additional $200 for committing to other "wellness activities" related to fitness and nutrition. Consulting firm McKinsey & Company conducted a study on the impact of sleep in the workplace. Nap rooms are a common sight at Google, Zappos and Ben & Jerry’s, to name a few, while Facebook has held sleep workshops to teach employees about the benefits of increased z's. 

The sleep fascination has extended into brand identities, too: JetBlue, for example, installed nap pods in its new terminal at John F. Kennedy airport last month. And as part of a partnership with The Huffington Post, Marriott distributed cards with Arianna Huffington's sleep tips to its hotel guests last month, while publishing a series of articles on how to make vacation a time for both activity and healthy rest. 

Though diverse, all of these programs have the same critical goal: to get us to sleep more, whether we're the consumer or the employee.

“How an employee sleeps at home directly impacts how they function at work," 
Nancy Rothstein, director of Circadian Corporate Sleep Programs, told HuffPost. "And that’s something [corporations] have never thought about... An employer cannot outsource an employee’s sleep.” 

Rothstein acknowledges that we're at a "tipping point," where sleep will soon emerge as the corporate zeitgeist of our day. Big companies have long focused on fitness and nutrition for their employees, she says, but the final and most important point of that triangle is sleep. And it took quantitative research to finally get companies to listen up. 

One study that's been getting attention lately found people who are sleep deprived perform the same or worse as those who are legally drunk on a whole host of cognitive tasks. Another study, co-authored by sleep specialist Els van der Helm, found that sleep affects every key behavior needed for good leadership, even though 43 percent of corporate leaders don't get enough sleep for most of the week.

Both Rothstein and van der Helm told HuffPost that data like these have succeeded at getting corporations to pay attention to the power of sleep. And this attention, they hope, will lead to workplace changes that stick. 

"Once you believe you can change, you need to be convinced it's necessary and worth it," van der Helm says. She leads sleep workshops at companies like HuffPost and Facebook to do just that.

So where are we headed in this corporate #SleepRevolution? Companies often outfit their workers with fitness trackers to document sleep, but the ultimate answer goes beyond that, Rothstein says. She sees a future of sustainable change in which people get quality sleep, not just more of it. Office sleep programs that check in with workers week after week would majorly change corporate culture, she says. And with this newfound focus on the importance of sleep, they could be commonplace very soon.

And THAT is good news for all of us.



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