Let Employees Nap (On the Job) To Increase Performance

January 13, 2013 by Ken Nowack

“The amount of sleep required by the average person is five minutes more.”
Wilson Mizener



We all seem to be working longer and harder with health, sleep and mood being affected.

Research by Sylvia Ann-Hewlett and Caroyl Luce show that 62% of high earning individuals work more than 50 hours per week, 35% work more than 60 hours a week and 10% work more than 80 hours ((Hewlett, A. & Luce, C. (2006). Extreme jobs. The dangerous allure of the 70-hour workweek. Harvard Business Review, December 2006, pp. 1-12)). Their findings suggest that more than 70% of professionals reported not getting enough sleep.

Recent research also suggests that people who sleep for less than six hours each night were 12%more likely to die prematurely than those who get the recommended 6-8 hours.The study, recently published in the journal Sleep, provides unequivocal evidence of the direct link between short duration of sleep (less than 6 hours sleep a night) and an increased chance of dying prematurely ((Cappuccio F. et al;., (2010). Sleep duration and all-cause mortality: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies. Sleep, 33)).

Our own research with our stress and health assessment called StressScan allows us to also take a look at just how sleep deprived talent today is. One of the scales is called Sleep/Rest and is measures both quantity and quality of sleep. In a recent analysis of over 686 leaders, approximately 30% reported receiving less sleep than required because they stayed up too late or had to get up too early. Almost 30% reported that they had difficulty falling or staying asleep which also resulted in a sleep deficit. I guess there is nothing like a third or more of our work force coming to work sleep deprived–I just hope these employees aren’t flying my planes, operating my nuclear plants, performing my surgeries or making critical decisions that impact my health and welfare.

Leaders and others know that the sleep-deprived are significantly more moody, miserable and just not much fun to be around. New research from UC Berkeley using MRI technology helps explain why for the first time.

The study is the first to show exactly what areas of the brain are affected by sleep deprivation ((Yoo, S., Gujar,N., Hu,P., Jolesz, F., & and Walker, M. (2007). The human emotional brain without sleep — a prefrontal amygdala disconnect. Current Biology. Vol 17, R877-R878, 23 October 2007)).

In the UC Berkeley study of 26 young adults, half of the subjects were kept awake for 35 hours straight and the other half were allowed a normal night’s sleep in that same time period. Then all of the subjects were hooked up to an MRI and shown a number of images while the researchers monitored what happened in their brains as each image was shown.

The sleep-deprived subjects had a significant activity in the amygdala (the section of the brain that puts the body on alert to protect itself and control emotions) and simultaneously activity slowed down in the prefrontal cortex, which controls logical reasoning. However, subjects who had gotten a full night of sleep showed normal brain activity.

Americans are among the most sleep-deprived people in the world with 40% of Americans getting less than seven hours of sleep a night, according to a 2005 poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, and 75% reported having some sort of sleep disorder one or two nights a week (http://www.sleepfoundation.org/).

What this means for most people is that a single sleepless night or very poor quality of sleep can cause employees to overreact to emotional challenges that they would otherwise be able to tolerate without any trouble. In research from my colleague  Dr. Mark Rosekind who is a member of the National Safety and Transportation Board and a fatigue expert has shown that just a few hours of sleep less than you need has a significant negative impact on mood, psychomotor function and memory even if you believe you are functioning at 100%.  In fact, loss of even one night of sleep or horrible quality sleep causes the same reaction time impairment as being legally drunk.

Maybe a little siesta at work is actually a clever way to enhance energy, productivity and performance.

So, look out if you have sleep deprived talent and leaders who lack emotional intelligence— their amygdala already is compromised….Be well…

Kenneth Nowack, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist (PSY13758) and President & Chief Research Officer/Co-Founder of Envisia Learning, is a member of the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations. Ken also serves as the Associate Editor of Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research. His recent book Clueless: Coaching People Who Just Don’t Get It is available for free for a limited time by signing up for free blog updates (Learn more at our website)

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  1. Very informative and helpful article Ken. I will share it with others. Thanks.

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