Sleep: A Competitive Advantage

Mary Prefontaine

By, Mary Prefontaine
ICAN President & CEO

As a leader, I have become an evangelist about healthy sleep and how it affects the bottom line of my business. I am exploring how consistent healthy sleep correlates to not only my overall well being, but also the health and productivity of my employees. Could a well rested, “eight hours a night” employee be the new competitive advantage?

This is an important conversation, and experts such as Dr. Charles Czeisler, head of Harvard’s Division of Sleep Medicine, and other leaders, are convinced that corporate America needs to help lead a social revolution to make healthy sleep a priority. The sleep experts have captured my attention, and the attention of influencers from a variety of industries and communities.

This past May in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I had the opportunity to attend the inaugural Harvard Corporate Sleep Summit. Julia Kirby of the Harvard Business Review participated, along with representatives from Procter & Gamble, Twitter, Sysco, Wal-Mart, Eli Lilly and others.

The conversation was dynamic and enlightening. We asked tough questions and pondered big ideas, such as, what if we all “woke up” to the reality that healthy sleep leads to better outcomes, happier lives, and a more productive society? What constitutes healthy sleep? What if our employees were not required to be on “24-7,” and as a result, sleeping regularly which helped them be alive with energy and fully engaged on the job? Could we, as a nation, have a new competitive advantage if companies across the country embraced sleep as the third pillar of health, alongside diet and exercise?

On my personal journey to healthy sleep, I have discovered what unhealthy sleep patterns can do to my brain and body, and the deadly link to heart disease, depression, attention deficit, and so many other physical and emotional issues.

Here are just a few facts on how sleep affects you, and ultimately impacts success for your team and organization:

– Acute or chronic insomnia affects nearly a quarter of all U.S. workers, resulting in 367 million lost workdays per year and a cost to employers of nearly $63.2 billion annually in medical expenses and lost productivity. (The Fiscal Times, July 2013, “How a bad night’s sleep can ruin your career”)
– Lack of sleep affects the prefrontal cortex of the brain, the area that controls innovation, self-control and creativity.
– Sleep deprivation affects an employee’s learning, memory, critical problem solving, ethical decision making, creativity and innovation in the workplace. (The Fiscal Times, July 2013, “How a bad night’s sleep can ruin your career”)
– Sleep loss can impair judgment, impacts the frontal lobe of the brain and has negative effects on decision-making such as sensitivity to risk-taking, moral reasoning and inhibitions. (Maclean’s, June 2013, “The Sleep Crisis”)
– Changing work cultures and constant connection to smartphones and digital devices is wreaking havoc with many Americans’ sleep patterns. (Huffington Post, May 2013, “5 Things You Should Know About Sleep Health in the Workplace)
I first heard the statement “sleep is the new sex” from Marian Salzman, a futurist and trend analyst who spoke at the 2009 ICAN Women’s Leadership Conference. At that time I hadn’t slept for a year – at least not through the night – and as for sex, well – whatever! I woke up exhausted, feeling burdened by the 3 a.m. endless, often torturous conversations with only myself. Those diatribes meticulously reviewed every single aspect of my life – money, work, relationships, career, family and the minutia of the everyday – all the way through my life until I died. Which, by 6 o’clock in the morning, I was convinced was imminent.

I knew exactly what Marian Salzman was talking about! I cared much less about intimacy at the end my day than I did for the deliciousness of an uninterrupted night of sleep.

So, for all of you who are walking around exhausted, no doubt you may agree that a good night’s sleep is better than sex. However, what if you made healthy sleep a goal (just like losing ten pounds) and reached a new level of energy and vibrancy? Not only might sex seem like a great idea, you would embrace all aspects of your life once again. The world looks brighter already, doesn’t it?

Get interested in changing your life and your bottom line for the good. Join us in our efforts to create a social movement and learn how to make healthy sleep your new competitive advantage.

This blog also appears on the Huffington Post