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The movement-sleep connection and why it’s holding your organization back

Sleep is universal. We all know how energizing it is to wake up after a good night’s sleep – and how awful it is to feel exhausted and drag ourselves through the day.

As a business leader, you’d likely agree that you’re at your best when you’re well-rested, and the same goes for your staff. But did you know that physical activity could be the key to unlocking better sleep – and in turn, better attendance and productivity – for your employees?

Consider these commonly held beliefs about sleep, and the truths behind them

“I’m sure my employees are getting enough sleep.”

Chances are, they aren’t. According to a 2017 Statistics Canada report, 33% of Canadian adults get less than the recommended seven hours of sleep every night. And, a survey by the Conference Board of Canada found that 27% of Canadian workers report being fatigued most days – or every day – during a typical work week. The demands of long hours, travel and 24/7 connectivity are taking their toll. Today’s workforce is, in a word, tired.

“My team’s performance isn’t related to their sleep habits.”

Remember how it feels after pulling an all-nighter? If your employees are getting a minimal amount of sleep, their output is likely to be limited, too. Scientifically speaking, it is well documented that sleep loss significantly impairs attention and cognitive speed, along with focus, memory, creativity and decision-making. For example, an employee who is chronically fatigued may work at a slower pace and fail to meet deadlines. Executives who make presentations or new business pitches will find it hard to speak articulately with a foggy brain. For jobs requiring dexterity or the operation of specialized equipment, an overtired operator presents a safety risk to everyone involved.

“My employees’ sleep habits aren’t my business.”

Of course, your employees’ personal lives are their own, but their overall health and wellness affects their ability to be at work and perform their duties effectively. If that is compromised, so are your company’s results. Insufficient sleep, either in duration or quality, is associated with a variety of health problems including obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, depression and reduced immune system functioning. In the last five years, Canadian full-time workers have missed an average of 9.1 days of work per year, and absenteeism cost the Canadian economy an estimated $16.6 billion dollars in 2012 alone. Healthy, well-rested employees are likely to miss fewer days of work due to illness, injury, stress or mental health issues.

“If my employees are so tired, why would I promote physical activity? Won’t that deplete them even more?”

Although it might initially sound counterproductive, people who are more active actually sleep better and have more energy, because they:

–       Expend more physical energy during the day, resulting in higher quality sleep at night.

–       Improve their mood, thus reducing the chances of experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression.

–       Get the “brain drain” that comes with physical activity, which reduces their stress levels and allows them to settle in at bedtime.

–       Break the cycle of being too tired to move, but too wired to sleep.

–       Start a new positive routine of being active, getting proper sleep, feeling energetic, and applying that energy to small bouts of physical activity throughout the day (such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator).

“There is nothing I can do to influence my employees’ sleep patterns.”

Actually, there is. Make it known that the company values employee wellness, and use physical activity as a tool for positive change. In addition to modelling healthy habits yourself, encourage physical activity and proper sleep by promoting:

–       Sitting less during the day, through the use of standing desks, walking meetings and stretch breaks.

–       Getting outside at lunch hour for some natural light, to help regulate the body’s inner clock.

–       Educational resources relating to sleep hygiene – for example, Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington has an informative book and a four-minute TED Talk on the subject.

–       Flex hours, if your industry allows, so employees who need more sleep can choose hours that suit their schedule. Surveys of today’s workforce show that work day flexibility is a top priority, particularly for the younger Millennial age group.

For a more dramatic wake-up call, read about major companies like Google, Ben & Jerry’s and Nike, who have implemented “nap rooms” to allow employees to recharge during the work day.

Finally, consider how your feedback influences the corporate culture. Instead of glorifying employees who repeatedly stay late at the office or respond to evening e-mails within minutes, praise those who practice self-care and work/life balance. Start an open dialogue in your organization about positive health habits, including physical activity and sleep. This kind of “pillow talk” will help your employees sleep better, feel better and perform better.

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