We all do it…

Wait, what? There’s an amazingly effective way for people to improve concentration, reduce risk of illnesses including major ones like cancer and diabetes, and it’s free and it’s available to everyone? Wow, that could totally be useful to those we work with. What’s it called?

Sleep? What’s sleep got to do with the workplace? Sleep is something that happens in a bed far away at night-time, and neither talking about it nor taking it belongs anywhere near the job. For all its many benefits (and despite being what every human does), sleep seems to be regarded somewhat contentiously in the context of the workplace.

We recently spent a week at Here paying attention to our sleep as part of our In Balance programme. To inspire self-care and compassion we look to grow what people we work with are already doing to look after themselves and each other. For example, most lunchtimes at Here you will be able to find either in our Meadow room, or on one of the sofas, someone curled up taking a 20 minute nap before heading back to work for the afternoon.

We did three things:

  1. Challenged each other to a Sleep Challenge to get 8 hours sleep per night for a week. What difference would you notice if you focused on ensuring you got those precious hours? Participant’s snooze efforts were tracked and shared through an app, with everyone taking part able to see where they were on the sleep ‘leaderboard’. Not that it got competitive ( we actually recorded sleep opportunity –we can create good conditions for sleep but we can’t guarantee it!)
  2. Hosted a discussion on ‘Napping at work –what does the research show and what are the issues?
  3. Screened a documentary about the effects of the lack of sleep followed by a talk.


Challenging the ‘doing’ culture

The challenge turned competitiveness and group energy into an effort that invited people to look at the quality and quantity of their sleep. Those who took part say it helped them sleep better and feel better –evidenced in being able to bound up the stairs to the office in the morning!

What left the biggest impression on me was the conversation around sleep at work. One of our directors can occasionally be found taking a restorative nap and it was surprising to hear from him that he felt shamed about needing to sleep in the day. Another colleague made an excellent point that we accept certain ways of people dealing with tiredness and stress in the workplace as they keep doing and ‘push on through’ with caffeine, sugary drinks and snacks and smoking breaks. As long-term coping mechanisms these aren’t particularly healthy, but are more accepted in the workplace than the natural remedy of sleep, which seems harder to normalise. Sleeping at work, it seems, can be quite a culture challenge.


The morning after

Sleeping at work might be something some agree with in principle but would be unlikely to follow in practice. We can feel vulnerable when we sleep and it is important that people feel safe enough to do this. As a compulsive ‘doer’ when things are challenging I will try and do even more, until eventually I’m done. But there are times when, like a strung-out toddler, I don’t realise how much I need to stop and lie down. But imagine what creativity we might unleash if we felt safe enough to take 20 minutes to nod off and come back capable of stringing two thoughts together and make a more meaningful contribution.

You can easily make a productivity argument for paying attention to sleep in the workplace, but there are even more meaningful effects. As a colleague commented to me after Sleep Week:

“I’ve started napping 15 minutes each day at work. I find the afternoon goes better, offers a mental reset and is a stress reliever. Stress affects me bodily and if not dealt with can make me feel unwell. It has made me think of my team and think about how do we look after each other in the stress of the job?”

Sleep has turned out to be a great thing to focus on, precisely because it is something everyone does and is easily improved. It has encouraged us to think even more about ‘meeting people where they are’ and creating initiatives that improve the quality or reach of the simple things people already to take care of themselves and each other.

tagged in Circus, In Balance, sleep

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