There Should Be PTO for Zzzzzz

Sleep deprivation is slowing us down and making us ill. It's high time employers help us lie down to get fully revved up.

In the eloquent words of Dr. Seuss: “The alarm can ring. The birds can peep. My bed is warm. My pillow’s deep. Today’s the day I’m going to sleep.” Loads of us aren’t getting enough rest, and it’s hurting our health and productivity. But instead of pulling a “sickie” — feigning illness to get some much-needed z’s — I propose bosses give us two workdays a month to stay under the duvet, and ward off disease.

Rhymes aside, there’s method to my madness, because science (kinda) backs me up. Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that “around 30 to 40 percent of U.S. adults and 70 percent of late adolescent children appear to not get enough sleep,” Dr. Michael Twery, a sleep expert at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, tells OZY. Over the past century, “societal pressures to work more and at odd hours” have seen the time we snooze drop by about 20 percent, writes Dr. William C. Dement in The Promise of Sleep. Which means that at least a third of the population is struggling to get enough rest to “maintain optimal health,” says professor Michael Grandner, director of the Sleep and Health Research Program at the University of Arizona.

Won’t you kindly go away. I am NOT going to get up today!

Dr. Seuss

While adults should ideally get seven to eight hours, and young children more, the “timing, quality and duration [of sleep] all come together to determine circadian health,” says Twery. Respecting that rhythm is vital because, according to Grandner, our bodies rely on it to “do very important things.” It’s like having a poor diet: We can eat junk food and sleep five hours a night for a long time without dying, but the longer we do it, “the more the scales start to tip the other way.” In a literal sense, too: Sleep deficits can contribute to obesity, along with all the associated complications — diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease.

It’s not just your health that suffers, but also — listen up, employers — workplace productivity. A 2009 study by Mark R. Rosekind and Kevin B. Gregory quantified the cost. A normally good sleeper who suffers bad sleep costs a company nearly $1,300 a year in decreased productivity. The number nearly tripled for bad sleepers. That’s not even counting the extra health-care costs of sleep deprivation, which Grandner estimates at $3,000 per worker. Tally it all up and you’re looking, conservatively, at about $5,000 per staffer each year. If you have 1,000 employees, that’s a whopping $5 million bucks. So granting time off for sleep just makes good financial sense.

But how could we possibly enforce sleep days? It’s a concern: Medical residents have been getting more time off for rest in recent years, Grandner says, and research has shown that these future doctors use only a portion of that time for sleep. “Most people, unfortunately, won’t take sleep seriously until something bad happens,” says Dr. Raj Dasgupta, a fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. But Fitbits and sleep trackers would be a place to start by way of enforcement, Grandner says, as would more research on symptoms of sleep deficits.

Alas, my boss and I aren’t on the same page. “Pay employees to … sleep? In your dreams!” says OZY deputy editor Pooja Bhatia. But I refer her back to Seuss: “Won’t you kindly go away. I am NOT going to get up today!”

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