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Showing up to work tired is just like showing up to work drunk

Don't use your iPad before bed!

During the last few decades the average American has lost and hour and a half of sleep per night. Sleep researchers at Harvard say the workplace is suffering to the tune of $63 billion a year as a result of insomnia, and all the health and productivity problems that go with it.

Gail DeBoer knows something about that. She is the president of a large federal credit union in Omaha. Her restless nights began when she got her first smartphone a few years ago. She’d look at email just before she went to bed. But it didn’t end there.

“I’d wake up at two or three in the morning thinking about work situations,” says DeBoer. “I’d start sending emails because it was on my mind.”

After that, she never really got back to sleep. She began having regular headaches. Still, she told herself she was fine on about five hours a night. Russell Sanna is executive director of the division of sleep medicine at Harvard Medical School. He hears that all the time. “There’s a cultural norm that says sleep is for losers in the United States,” says Sanna.

Harvard is on a mission to change that. It wants companies to take sleep as seriously as they do obesity or smoking. Sanna says sleep deprivation has been shown in clinical settings to have “the equal cognitive impairment as alcohol consumption. Nobody’s particularly interested in having their employees show up intoxicated,” he says. “But unless they’re paying attention to sleep deprivation that’s what’s in fact happening.”

Some businesses are already tackling the issue. Casey Smith is head athletic trainer for NBA team the Dallas Mavericks. The players have just started wearing wristwatches that measure the duration and intensity of their sleep. “It’s a sport but it’s also a business,” says Smith. “Our business is to win games, to win matches, and anything that can make our athletes perform at a higher level, react quicker, recover better, that’s something that we would obviously be interested in.”

In Omaha, Gail DeBoer finally realized she wasn’t performing at her best. Her headaches were getting worse. And she was mortified to discover some of her staff were exhausted too“Even if I didn’t say it, I think the impression was if I was working they should be working so we had to evaluate -- I had to evaluate -- the message I was sending,” says DeBoer.

She ended up getting rid of smartphones for everyone except her senior team. She also trained herself not to check email before bed. She’s sleeping 8 hours a night -- and she hasn’t had a headache for months.

Ashley Milne-Tyte is the host of a podcast on women in the workplace called The Broad Experience.

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Just to echo LLB's comment, before my recent contract ended, my average work day worked like this (assuming I didn't have to stay late at the office and good traffic, no accidents or special events): Woke up at 4:00 am; took an hour to cook breakfast, bath and groom myself, wash dishes, and make lunch; spent an hour traveling to work that started at 6:00am; worked until 3:00 pm; spent an hour traveling towards home to pick up my partner*; took an hour traveling home, including a stop at the grocery store that was on the way; arrived home and spent an hour and a half cooking, eating, and doing a load of laundry. I've found that I need to get at least 8 hours of sleep to function properly: it takes me about half an hour between getting ready for bed and laying in bed before I fall asleep, and would head to bed just shortly before 7:30pm. With the hour of free time between 6:30pm and 7:30pm, I'd normally watch previous day's Daily Show and Colbert Report with my partner.

If it weren't for the fact that I listed to NPR (and Marketplace) podcasts on my commute, I wouldn't have got any real news. I spent 0 time during the work week engaging socially (outside of my partner) or civically, or exercising. I don't know what I'd have done if we had kids. I know I felt bad for people I worked with who had longer commutes (up to 3 hours by bus) and/or kids.

*Bus trip from my partner's place of work takes about 1.5 hours to return home, vs .5 via car. Trip to the store ate up ~30 minutes between actual shopping and waiting in line.

My name is Paddy Hirsch and I edited this piece by Ashley. She asked me to clarify that the story is not meant to imply that everyone needs or should get 8 hours sleep a night. "Russell Sanna from Harvard told me a 'normal' night's sleep varies between 6 - 9 hours, depending on the person."

The last 3 places I've worked insisted that we bill at least 50 hrs a week—anything less and you were ridiculed as "part time". If businesses would like their employees better rested how about rethinking their policies and business models?

If you get home from work at 7, cook dinner, wash the dishes, do any necessary housework or errands, and want to take an hour or so to wind down and relax before bed, you're lucky if you're in bed/getting ready for bed by 11, fully asleep by 11:30. If you then have to wake up at 6, you're only getting about 6.5 hours of sleep. I never check work emails at home, but I still don't get 8 hours. And it's not about perception that sleep is for losers, the fact is that the average adult human just has way too many responsibilities on their plate. Working 8 hours a day is not enough for most people, you have be in the office for at least 9 or 10 to get everything done or impress the boss. Then you have to commute, take care of family members, run errands, buy and prepare healthy food, work out or get some exercise, have clean laundry for work the next day, keep up with news, keep up with your social circle...most people would like a full 8 hours, but when there are only 24 in the day...

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