Sleep in the Corporate Culture: restricting sleep is bad for employers and employees

The overworked, high-powered employee is a recurring archetype in American culture. The most glorified careers in our society–doctors, lawyers, and investment bankers–are notorious for long hours and not providing enough sleep. Our television stations are full of shows that romanticize the quick-paced and exciting lives of emergency room doctors or criminal lawyers, while entirely downplaying the negative health consequences of such a sleep-deprived lifestyle. Plus, many companies have a culture that demands 110% of their employees, without considering the detriments in terms of efficiency, long-term productivity, and individual health. 

That’s why today we’re taking a look at sleep in our corporate culture and how that culture is affecting working people and America as a whole.

Sleep in the Corporate Culture

Having well-rested workers is important for both employees and employer. 

The tough-guy attitude towards sleep

It’s fair to say that we in the United States are not very sleep friendly (after all, over half of adults in this country aren’t getting enough hours). Sleep, especially for people working in high-pressure jobs, certainly isn’t seen as a priority.  What’s a lost hour or two of sleep when your company needs you? Often workers are pressured to put in extra hours, fill in at unfamiliar shifts, or maintain unusual schedules in order to keep up with the demands of their employer. All of this can compromise sleep quality.

Plus, many high-powered businessmen and politicians feel the need to sacrifice sleep in order to keep up with their busy and successful careers. For instance, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump reported sleeping 3-4 hours each night. Other celebrities like Marissa Meyer, Martha Stewart, and even Thomas Edison report getting marginal amounts of sleep. Tales like these can give the misleading impression that sleep is disposable, and even unproductive or impossible for successful moguls. In fact, sleep is vital for everyday functioning, and many people, like Bill Gates and the founder of Amazon, get at least 7 hours per night.

Plus, there’s an element of machoism in how our culture approaches sleep. Being able to run on a small amount of sleep is seen a sign of strength, while people who sleep a lot (or even just the recommended amount) are branded as weak or lazy. This is far from the truth. 

Sleep isn’t for the weak

Sleep is vital for proper physical and mental functioning. Just take a look at the negative effects of sleep deprivation to get an idea of what not sleeping enough can do to your body and mind. 

It’s estimated that sleep deprivation, which affects around one in three American employees, cost employers more than $63.2 billion in 20111.  People showed up for work, but a lack of sleep caused them to function at less than peak efficiency.  People who are sleep-deprived find themselves struggling to keep their attention on the task at hand.  One study suggests that for every hour of sleep lost the night before, employees spend approximately 8.4 more minutes browsing online during the work day.  

Not only that, sleep deprivation leads to increased agitation among workers.  They have sharper tempers, less patience, and less tolerance for one another.  Shorter sleep during the holiday season, for example, leads to retail workers who are more likely to snap at one another and even get into fights on the job.  

Increasing Productivity by Increasing Sleep

Unfortunately, the attitude toward sleep in the corporate culture has been slow to change, although some companies are beginning to encourage proper sleep habits in their employees. Have you heard of the famous nap pods at Google, where employees are encouraged to catch some shut-eye during the work day if they need it? That’s one example. Firms such as Goldman Sachs have also invested in training courses and resources for employees. 

We in the United States need to realize that sleep isn’t a liability–if anything, it’s more like a superpower. It recharges our brains, strengthens our bodies, and makes us more friendly and productive. Sleep is an asset to employers, not an enemy. 

Ultimately, changing this mentality starts at an individual level. Tonight, instead of staying up late to answer emails, try sticking to a reasonable bedtime. You might just wake up realize how beneficial that extra hour was to your alertness and energy–and be able to whip off those emails in half the time. 

Are you concerned that you or a loved one is suffering from excessive daytime sleepiness?

Take the sleepiness quiz


1) Ronald C. Kessler, PhD et al. “Insomnia and the Performance of US Workers: Results from the America Insomnia Survey.” SLEEP Journal.

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Photo Credit: reynermedia. “Sleeping worker.” Creative Commons license. 


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    The most glorified careers in our society–doctors, lawyers, and investment bankers–are notorious for long hours and not providing enough sleep.

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