Help to get a good night’s sleep; Rest is as important as fitness in today’s working environment

October 3, 2013 4:57 pm

Help to get a good night’s sleep

By Emma Jacobs

Guy Meadows used to work as a researcher in sleep labs at the Charing Cross and the Royal Brompton hospitals in London. He would spend his nights observing those with sleep disorders as they tried to get some shut-eye. Eight years ago he decided he had had enough: “I was tired of watching people sleep. I was doing shift work. I know how bad that is for your health.” His work, however, had convinced him there was a market among people desperate for a cure to their sleep problems. Now the 36-year-old, who describes himself as a “normal sleeper with disturbances” – he has two children, aged three and one – works as a sleep consultant, running workshops and one-to-one counselling sessions to help people overcome insomnia.Mr Meadows is part of a growing profession advising individuals and companies on sleep. As he puts it, long hours, working with markets in different time zones and technologies leaves many people “tired but wired. When man was wandering around the fields with his plough, he wasn’t checking Facebook and Twitter. His brain was much quieter. Today our brains are so stimulated we can’t sleep.”

His mantra is that “the best sleepers do nothing to get themselves to sleep. Insomniacs do lots.” His clients, he says, end up lying in bed saying to themselves: “I’ve run a half-marathon, haven’t had any caffeine or alcohol and I still can’t sleep.” His approach is to teach people “to let go of the sleep struggles in their heads”.

Some companies, including Google and the consumer goods group Procter & Gamble, are investing in sleep, from providing lectures to training human resources managers in how to advise employees to improve their sleep routines and hygiene. Tips include leaving smartphones and other devices to one side and going to bed at regular times. Sleep consultants also offer advice on melatonin-regulating lighting or the best schedules for overseas travel.

“Employers can help working schedules by looking at shifts and making managers aware of the dangers of the long-hours culture, “ says Mr Meadows.

So appealing is the promise of sleep that Mr Meadows is also working with marketing departments at Estée Lauder, Tui and Thomson to incorporate sleep into their brand message.

Rebecca Robbins, the co-author of Sleep For Success, is working with the New York Benjamin Hotel as its official sleep consultant. The luxury hotel also offers a pillow menu, slumber-inducing foods and a sleep guarantee.

The cost of a bit of shut-eye

The weary are prepared to part with their cash for all sorts of sleep-enhancing products: pills, herbal remedies or noise reducers.

Research by IMS Health, a healthcare services company, found that last year there were 60m prescriptions for sleeping pills in the US in 2011, up from 47m in 2006.

The National Sleep Foundation, a US non-profit organisation, this week published the findings of its first global poll, which compared the sleep times of people aged 25 to 55 in the US, Canada, Mexico, the UK, Germany and Japan. “Japanese and Americans report sleeping about 30 to 40 minutes less on workdays than those in the other countries surveyed, averaging six hours and 22 minutes and six hours and 31 minutes of sleep, respectively,” it said.

Americans (21 per cent), Japanese (19 per cent) and Britons (18 per cent) reported sleeping fewer than six hours a night during the work week, about twice the rate of the other countries.

Ms Robbins, who is finishing a PhD in sleep research at Cornell University, has given talks to banks and tech companies. She says that while a chief executive evangelising the importance of sleep can help change a company’s culture, it is those lower down the corporate ladder who make the most difference. “Team managers can observe their employees’ tiredness. They can change the focus so it is the quality not quantity of work hours that counts,” she says.

Nancy Rothstein consults and lectures on sleep wellness to employers. She believes that as the economy has improved, so companies are starting to look at sleep as part of their benefits. “Companies have looked at fitness and diet and left out sleep. But how you work out doesn’t impact as much as sleep.”

Ms Robbins agrees: “The notion is that sleep is for the lazy. Instead we [are encouraged to] increase our productivity by going to the gym. In fact most of us need one more hour’s sleep a night.”

Russell Sanna, executive director of the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, echoes this view. “Employers are not yet convinced that sleep matters for peak performance. It does matter significantly that the top of organisations most of the time do not value sleep as a performance asset. ‘Sleep is for losers’ is the prevailing cultural norm.”

He adds that “sleep is considered private behaviour . . . not something that an employer should be mucking around with. However, bad sleep has public consequences. Many of them end up in the workplace. Sleep deprivation is so pervasive that, from a public health perspective, it is the new smoking.”

Not only does poor sleep dent productivity, it also causes impulsivity and poor decision-making, according to sleep researchers. Sleep deprivation has been indicated as a cause in 7.8 per cent of all the US Air Force’s Class A accidents, defined as costing $1m or more). Sleep-deprived US workers cost their employers $63bn in lost productivity, according to a 2011 Harvard Medical School study. A study published in the journal Organizational Dynamics in 2011 found that “sleepy team members may be especially likely to engage in conflict . . . [and] engage in social loafing.” There are also strong links between chronic sleep deficiency and obesity, diabetes and depression.

The Harvard Medical School Division of Sleep Medicine is planning to launch a campaign to address this issue. ReCharge America aims to engage global companies and consumers, for example, by working with Walmart to provide shoppers with the opportunity to assess their sleep health and receive guidance.

No discussion of sleep consultants, however, is complete without those helping parents cope with waking infants. Louise Moxon set up Cocoon, an agency in London that provides parents desperate for their infants to sleep through the night with consultants. She believes that societal change has meant that parents want to buy in help that would previously come from families. “In our parents’ generation . . . often the grandmother of the child would move in to help and give advice. Now, it seems that it is not the done thing,” she says. Moreover, there is so much advice on the internet and in books that “it becomes difficult to know what to believe”.

Kim West and Deborah Pedrick, co-founders of the International Association of Child Sleep Consultants, add another factor: “The growing awareness of the effects from chronic sleep loss . . . and its connection with childhood obesity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and learning deficiencies in school-age children.”

A good sleep consultant must be sympathetic to the needs of the child and parents, Ms Moxon insists. “A lot of parents find the ‘leave to cry’ technique very upsetting. However, a good sleep consultant will understand your needs and requirements and therefore choose a method that works for you.”

Mr Meadows does not work with children but says that understanding the client is key. “Sleep is an individual thing. Seven to eight hours is the much-trumpeted time we’re meant to sleep. In fact the range is four to 10 hours. Some can wake up at 5am, run around the park, read the papers and be in the office by 7.30am. They are predetermined to be like that,” he adds.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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