Innovative Sleep Programs - How Sleep Is Revolutionizing The Workplace

At the WMTC & EHBC last year in Washington, D.C., Corporate WellnessMagazine caught up with Dr. Christopher Winters just before his presentation atthe much-anticipated Sleep Summit. An emerging trend is more and more corporateoffices initiating programs to encourage their employeesto sleep and to sleep well. Here is Dr. Winter’s take on what all the conversation is all about.

DR.WINTERS: I think peopleare starting to understandjust how important it is to pay attention to the sleep of an employee. Everything up to now has been focused onthe employee’s life within theworkplace. We see this a lotin sports that we deal with,where after the employee or the athlete leaves theworkplace or the training facility, that part of their lifeis not considered.

What is interesting is thatyou can bring nutrition intothe workplace fairly easily,at least in some way, butsleep has always been sortof on its own. I think peopleare starting to understandjust how quality sleep canhave a tremendous impacton the worker’s or athlete’sperformance, like fewer sickdays, and improved mentalattitude and well-being in general. So, I think that people are starting to finally understand that the idea ofsacrificing sleep, staying uplate and getting up early is not a long-term solution.

DR. WINTERS: Yes, I do. I think they’re better than somebody trying to sleep at their desk or on a couch in a disruptive lounge area. So, for example, we’ve actually designed nap rooms for athletic teams. It’s all aboutelevating the experience, understanding that youmay not be able to capture the perfect experience but you can certainly make it better. Sleep pods certainly make it quieter, and cooler and darker. By just creating a uniform environmentwith a process whereby the individual is goingto a specific place at acertain time of the day is so beneficial.

I remember one time when I was with a team and I was looking around for a BBQ. I was hungry and I was in between interviews. I opened up a storage closet, and there was a player on the floor of the storage closet with a towel wrappedup under his head using it as a pillow. If your athletes are going to sleep, is that the best we can do?

So I think a pod provides agreat environment and isa good idea. It’s also a great symbol when youbring that pod into your work environment, it translates that sleep is of real and tangible value.

DR. WINTERS: To me, it’s all about creating a culture. Talking about it,not preaching, but justtalking about the benefitsof sleep with your employees. I think you give them opportunities to explore sleep; you don't penalize individualsfor taking a nap ormaking time for resting. I also think that this isparticularly importantto communicate to theemployee from the top down. That way, there is a sort of a modelingkind of experience. Weare starting to see this with a lot of CEOs whosort of “get it” because they take naps. Arianna Huffington has gone onrecord to say that she makes sure people know when she’s napping!

I feel that we can alldo that. So if the bossis taking a nap, theboss is talking abouthow important it is andthen by doing it, theemployees have a littlebit more comfort level indoing it themselves.

DR. WINTERS: Well,there are so many… I think the number onesleep tip is probablyconsistency, andspecifically, consistencyof awakening. I thinkpeople make a lot of fussabout the consistency of bedtime which is important,but to me, I think thatpeople sort of hang onvery hard and fast to rigidbedtimes.

Holding onto the idea that your bedtime is 11:00 pm so that individual sets the plan or course of action that they get into bed at 11:00 pm and then they maybe don’t fall asleep quickly.

Then they’re stressed out, think they have tofall asleep in order tokeep their schedule.My advice is that thebedtime should be a timethat you’re aiming forbut if you’re not sleepyat your bedtime, then it is okay to stay awakeand do things. This isimportant for employees,and for kids. In ourhousehold we don’t reallyhave bedtimes; we havetimes when I want my kidsto be in their rooms, quiet and reading or drawing, ordoing something, but the wake-up times are prettyset in stone.

We don’t want to createwhat can be construedas performance anxiety,which is where we find alot of people encounter difficulties regardingsleep. They’re in bed at 10 pm, and they arenot asleep by 11:00 pmand then it is 11:30 pmand they haven’t fallenasleep. That leads theindividual now feelinglike they are failing. So tome, consistent wake timeand even napping, I think,is meant to have somesort of plan. Such as, you set an appointmentat 1:00 PM to take a nap until 1:25 pm. If your setnap time rolls aroundand you don’t feel sleepy,then skip the nap. But ifyou skip the nap and at 4:00 pm you feel tired, I think it is better not tonap because you missed your chance.

I suggest you try to treatsleep like a meal. Wedon’t eat all over the place, we try to haveconsistency with ourmeal time, and so we canprobably do the samething with our sleep.

There was some research a while back which stated that resting actually does 70 percent of what sleep does for the body. Therefore, the idea is that if you are in bed, not falling asleep, you are not really wasting time.

DR. WINTERS: You know,I think that right now sleep is in the “Wild West” phase, meaning that we’ve capitalized on interest and enthusiasm, but in terms of great scientific backingfor all the things that have been put out, there is a lackof discipline. What I mean isthat there are a lot of peoplewho market products that are going to help you sleep and certain methods thatare supposedly going to helpyou sleep and books that aregoing to help you sleep, butthe credentials are not alwaysthere. Like a yoga teacher for two years writing a bookabout sleep. I’ll be sure to tell my mentors and sleepexperts that they wasted 50 years of their life with all this training.

So, I think we are in a placeright now where there is thiskind of unrivaled enthusiasm,and people are passionateand want to consume goodinformation about sleep.But I think over the nextseveral years that will sortof get distilled out. Arianna’s[Huffington] book is a thesison why sleep should matter.So, I think we’re getting tothe place where people readit and say, you know what, Ibelieve it - sleep does matter. Now tell me what to do, how can I take my sleep to anotherlevel?

DR. WINTERS: With the integration of smartthermostats and smart homes,I think we’re going to start tosee the development of a trulysmart bedroom. Beds thatadapt to our sleeping patterns,beds that can monitor ourtemperature during the nightand adjust bed temperature,ambient lighting, and roomtemperature to providemaximal sleep. We’ll see alsosee lighting products that canhelp us wake up and feel our best, even in winter monthswhen the light is different.So, I think that we’re going tostart seeing technology subtlycreep into the home andoptimize the way we sleep.Also, we’re seeing a lot of enthusiasm within theprimary care field andthe medical community.They understand that if they really take the time toevaluate employees for sleep disturbances and fix themearly on, we can really stave off a lot of medical conditions.

DR. WINTERS: I think, I always tell people justbecause you can stay up lateand function well the next day doesn’t mean you should do it. I don’t know when, probably sometime in my late thirties, I kind of figured that out. Once I remember when my wife asked me when I was going to paint the basement. I had previously applied masking tape to the baseboards, fully intending to paint, but not getting to it right away. So, I literally stayed up all night and painted the basement and went to work the next day and was fine. But I really kind of had a moment whereI thought to myself just because you can do that, I really shouldn’t do that!

So at that point, I reallydecided to create a situationwhere at midnight or 11o’clock, no matter howinteresting the work, at thatpoint I would just shut it offand make an effort to get to sleep.