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Sleep Produces A Healthy Workforce Which Increases Productivity


You Snooze, You Lose! – Sleep, Myths, Health and Business.

‘Every important mistake I have made in my life, I made when I was tired’ – Bill Clinton.

My wife used to work in a bank headquartered in Victoria Island and during her stint there I met two ladies who were her colleagues at the time. Like my wife, they had recently had babies and so we always met at the bank’s crèche when I popped in to drop off or pick up my son. Both of them lived at two different ends of Lagos, Egbeda, and Ajah, and I always wondered how they coped with the commute.

Start Your Business in 30 Days Even If You Don't Have An Idea
Start Your Business in 30 Days Even If You Don’t Have An Idea

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The first, who lived in Egbeda, got out of bed by 4a.m every morning and was out an hour later after cleaning and preparing the kids to beat the 8a.m resumption time deadline at work. She waited out the evening traffic till at least 9p.m before setting out of Victoria Island and would reach Egbeda at almost 11p.m.

On paper, Ajah isn’t so far from V.I, right? Yet, the other lady had a similar story, she was up at 4:30 a.m and was out a few minutes later to beat the morning rush on the notorious Lekki-Epe Expressway. To many of us who live in Lagos, this is very normal.

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Someone who arrives home from work at 11 p.m will probably be asleep in bed just before midnight right? This same person has to be up at 4 a.m to get ready for the day – 4 hours of sleep. Sleep is the most commonly compromised item on the schedule of most busy people.

You can understand this given that it is a variable within your control – unlike a meeting you cannot get out of or a report you cannot ignore. You can simply cut your sleep time to achieve more since the day will never be more than 24 hours. There is also the common business phrase, ‘you snooze, and you lose’, which many organisations use to drive employees to even higher levels of performance and productivity.

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Also, consider the biblical admonition that a little sleep and a little more slumber will allow poverty pounce on you. The street parlance is, ‘stay woke’. At every turn, we are reminded of how sleep must be cut to a minimum and how easy it is to be left behind for dozing.

It is important to debunk some of these myths about the adequacy of sleep – quality, duration, and timing. Sleeplessness is easily associated with higher productivity and performance but could this be the simplistic misconception Alfred Montapert described when he warned against confusing motion with progress? Are we being penny-wise and pound-foolish?

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Interestingly, extensive research has been conducted by sleep experts globally and there is overwhelming evidence to suggest that more sleep, and not less, has a greater impact on performance. Sleeplessness is actually a very big problem today. So big, that the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declared it as a public health problem in 2015.

The figures in the U.S suggest that 35-40% of adults sleep less than the recommended 7 to 9 hours daily – roughly about 4 in 10 people. One wonders what the figures in Lagos will be, given the significant difference we have in social infrastructure and welfare as compared to the U.S.

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The economic realities of many people force them to homes outside central Lagos. Poor public transport systems in addition to overworked, overwhelmed, and poorly maintained roads create daily chaos to commute into and around the city. Folks in paid employment, therefore, have no choice than to leave their homes at wee hours to brave the daunting commute to work on a daily basis and so must sacrifice good sleep for a paycheck. Something must give, after all.

McKinsey, a foremost consulting firm, published an intriguing study in 2015 where they expounded on the four core behaviours of highly effective business leaders as being driven by results, being supportive of others, being able to entertain other perspectives and problem-solving abilities.

Interestingly, all four are directly affected by sleep or the lack of it. Hard to believe right? Believe it or not, but this is an ugly truth. Our brains are compartmentalised such that a part called the prefrontal cortex, is responsible for higher-order cognition that involves planning, organisation, strategy, and executive decision making. This part of our brain copes very poorly with sleeplessness.

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Go from idea to starting your business in 30 days
Go from idea to starting your business in 30 days

During sleep, the body undergoes routine maintenance works that repair wear and tear inflicted by our daily activities. This rebuilding process is evidenced physiologically by the spur in growth hormone levels in the blood when we sleep at night. The brain also benefits immensely from a good night’s sleep. It is easier to stay focused and be attentive after sleeping well and this is where effective business leaders earn points for being results and goals driven.

A study done at Harvard suggested that people hone the emotional components of memory during sleep and this is adducible for improved creativity. This also improves insight and problem-solving skills as averred in McKinsey’s report. Learning and memory are greatly affected by sleep as several studies have shown.

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The stages of encoding new information, consolidating such information and recall are all improved by sleep and this is why young people are even required to sleep more. Lifelong learning is a key characteristic of effective business leaders as they are able to entertain and even assimilate perspectives besides theirs. They are open-minded and they are able to learn from everyone and everything around them.

The last trait is emotional intelligence and the ability to support others. This has a lot to do with attentiveness, patient listening, human and social comprehension, and sound interpersonal relations. Crankiness, anxiety, and poor mood control from poor sleep get in the way of all these and the results can be far-reaching.

Medically, sleeplessness increases the blood levels of C-reactive proteins – this is according to a 2010 study. These are dangerous proteins that are responsible for longstanding inflammation and therefore increase the risk of obesity, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and other chronic illnesses in humans.

In 2014, Business Insider published an article that suggested that the risk of heart attacks increased by almost 45% higher in folks who slept less than 6 hours daily. One study monitored how sleeplessness affected insulin, the hormone responsible for sugar control in humans, and found that blood sugar reached pre-diabetic levels after just four days of sleep deprivation.

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Our immune system also gets hit by sleeplessness as shown by research published in 2009 where the risk of catching flu was found to be three times higher in folks who slept less than seven hours. Migraines are also reported more in people who sleep less than their well- resting counterparts. You now see how good sleep could save us loads of money by simply reducing hospital visits.

We are thought to make more careless financial decisions when our brains are tired. Science even supports this. The Journal of Neuroscience published an article in 2011 that correlated sleep deprivation with changes in economic preferences such that people opted to maximise gains at the risk of incurring bigger losses in decision making. This is probably a consequence of poor concentration and attention that follows sleep deprivation.

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Our eating habits also suffer drawbacks when we lose sleep. The hormones that regulate satiety, leptin, and ghrelin, are dysregulated such that our bodies cannot turn off the stop-eating switch. This causes poor weight control, obesity, and all the attendant health risks.

Sound sleep hygiene, as impractical as it seems especially in Lagos, will solve many of these problems. Developing a good sleep routine will help improve the quality of sleep. Generally, it is advised to standardise sleeping and waking times daily so that your body looks forward to shutting down at a particular time of the day.

It is best to avoid heavy meals close to bedtime as these may hinder sleep. One is also advised to avoid caffeinated substances – yes ladies, even chocolate- close to bedtime so as not to confuse the body’s internal clock. Light exercises in the evening and other relaxing activities like reading books are beneficial. Learn to turn off sources of bright light like televisions, computers, tablets, and phones.

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It may help if companies provide accommodation in the vicinity of offices or they can decide to source talent in the local communities. The skillset they require may be absent at the teething stages but all they need are trainable and teachable people and capacity can be built from there. Can they work in remote locations? Must they be in the building every day even with all this technology available to us? If people can work from home and their deliverables are well outlined and measured, is there any need to congest our roads on a daily basis?

The government has to take on public infrastructure development head-on and aggressively. The light rail project is one of such examples. When completed and operational, a trip from the Badagary axis to Marina will take approximately 40 minutes. Imagine if there were 10 of such high-speed commuter trains all coming into central Lagos every morning. Just imagine.

Our health remains our primary asset. When we have pushed ourselves to breaking point, it all becomes meaningless. Organisations have an obligation to look out for employees. The relationship ought to be symbiotic and sleep management must be considered as a training module of any serious organisation – 70% of the business leaders in that McKinsey study acquiesce.

A healthy workforce is a productive workforce. A productive workforce is a healthy bottom-line. Let them sleep.

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