The best way to get ahead in your career is by getting enough sleep

The phrase, "You snooze, you lose" could have been invented with the business world in mind. From Apple boss Tim Cook's 5am starts to Barack Obama's five-hours'-sleep-a-night boasts while in the Oval Office, burning the midnight oil and being the first at your desk has always been held in high regard in the workplace.

And it's not just those in Silicon Valley and the White House (Obama's replacement, President Trump, also prides himself on getting less than five hours a night) who aren't sleeping enough. 

In her new book, The Business of Sleep, Vicki Culpin, a clinical psychologist and expert in sleep and memory, reminds us that sleep, or rather the lack of, has been directly implicated in some of the biggest man-made disasters in recent history, from Chernobyl to the space shuttle Challenger explosion – a chilling warning, given her assertion that "never before have significant percentages of working adults been so sleep-deprived".

At a more insidious level, rather than keeping you at the top of your game at work, studies show that even mild sleep deprivation hinders your concentration, people skills and, ultimately, your mental health. There has been heightened business interest in sleep since António Horta Osório, chief executive of Lloyds bank, was signed off work with stress-related insomnia – he has said he did not sleep for five days as he battled to turn the bank around in 2011, leading him to check into the Priory with exhaustion.

Work-sleep balance

Some companies have already woken up to the importance of the sleeping habits of their staff. Google – frequently top of the "best places to work" rankings, thanks to staff perks such as on-site childcare and chefs – has installed sleep pods in its offices to encourage staff to nap. Similar pods can be found springing up all over offices in Silicon Valley, New York and LA. Nike's US headquarters has rooms designed for staff to sleep or meditate, and other companies, Proctor & Gamble included, are investing in lighting systems that regulate the sleep hormone melatonin.

And for staff at US insurance group Aetna, it literally pays to sleep. To avoid sleep deprivation affecting performance, the company invites workers to sign up to a scheme that offers financial rewards for getting at least seven hours of sleep. There are no Big Brother cameras making sure staff aren't pocketing their sleep bonuses while getting late nights but, "we're not worried, it's an honour system. We trust out staff," says vice-president Kay Mooney.

Missing link to wellness

So why the sea change?

"There has been an exponential increase in firms asking for help in getting their staff to sleep better in the past two years," says Guy Meadows, clinical director of The Sleep School, who runs sleep courses for professionals.

"Until recently, sleep was missing from work wellness programmes, which were more concerned with diet or exercise. But sleep is the most important wellness pillar of all - and can even help with the other two. After all, studies show that when we get enough sleep we make better food choices and are more likely to have the willpower to exercise.


"We also know that sleep is the starting block of all cognitive function, from memory to concentration. But I don't believe this new focus on sleep is solely driven by a desire to boost profits and to get more out of their employees. Rather, I believe it's part of a larger focus on good positive mental health within the workplace. So many organisations now have a mental health agenda and they know there are rising levels of stress, depression and anxiety within the workplace. And these things are inextricably linked to sleep."

Winners are snoozers

Accountancy giant Deloitte now offers staff relaxation rooms and the chance to go on sleep training courses, led by Dr John Briffa, author of A Great Day at the Office. "The 'sleep is for wimps' mantra has gone. In its place is a culture of senior staff significantly more aware of the benefits of sleep," he says. "The pressures of corporate life ramps up year on year, but firms like Deloitte realise that its people are its asset. Many companies today don't make actual products to sell. So their staff and the service they provide are their 'product' and they're realising they need to support them to become well, happy and rested. And data suggests focusing on sleep is a worthwhile endeavour because it's the starting block of good health, and the management around it is free and fairly simple. Sleep was once seen as a luxury item, the bottom of the priority list and the thing that could be squeezed out to fit more work in. But rather than sleep not being very productive, it is in fact key to productivity."

Of course, not all companies are on board, as yet. "Things are slowly getting better, but the workplace still has a lot to do," says Meadows. "It's the most obvious place to cause sleeplessness, thanks to a culture of long working hours, travel, shift work and pressure. But employers should remember that sleep is the most crucial wellness pillar. A few years back it was all about super-foods being the best thing for your health, now it's about being a super-sleeper. And if you can help your employees become one, your business will thank you for it."

You snooze you lose? More like you snooze, you win.

The Telegraph, London