By Shelley Luedtke
A segment during a recent news broadcast contained the statement "there is no greater risk to your career than falling asleep on the job." Apparently employees are falling asleep at work in ever increasing numbers.
It might be one thing to be caught by a co-worker or two but imagine when it happens to those in the public sphere: the actor who fell asleep during a live TV interview, the politicians caught napping during meetings, or world leaders who found themselves the object of laughter or ridicule after falling asleep at an international event.
We are not getting enough sleep, and it shows. Our cognition, memory and creativity are being impacted and our overall health is diminished because we simply don't get the sleep we need. Some companies have long recognized this and provide nap rooms for their employees but these receive mixed reviews. On one hand human resource specialists are calling lack of sleep an epidemic yet some caution against using nap rooms warning it gives the wrong message. One suggests making up an excuse like a dental appointment and then going out to your car to take a short nap. Seriously? Lying and sneaking out to catch some sleep? Is this where we are at?
A composer, concerned about the direction of sleeping patterns, created an eight hour composition entitled "Sleep" to encourage listeners to get a good night's rest. While some performers might take offence to someone falling asleep during their performance, Max Richter considers it a success if listeners sleep during what he describes as an "eight-hour lullaby." He consulted with a neuroscientist to learn more about how the brain functions during sleep and then wrote 31 pieces that work to put us, and keep us, asleep. At live concerts, sponsored by a mattress company, attendees arrive in pajamas, crawl into bed and, as the music kicks off (typically at midnight or just before) hopefully drift off into sleep while the music plays on for the next eight hours.
When our children were little there were bedtime rituals that became part of helping them prepare for sleep. It might include a warm bath, a snack, cuddling and a bedtime story, perhaps soft music and lights off--all done to help them settle into sleep. Why do so many of us leave those practices behind?
In a study conducted by the National Sleep Foundation 90% of parents reported their children slept less than recommended guidelines, while close to 60% wished they themselves could get more sleep. There are many factors at work in this equation and certainly some are dealing with diagnosed sleep disorders, but the biggest culprit for many is something over which we have control--our electronic devices. The light our screens give off can slow or even halt the production of melatonin, the hormone that signals our brain to keep us in a normal sleep cycle. Our brains are being re-wired, and for what? To watch a video a stranger posted of their cat doing something we've seen 100 other pets do before? To see vacation pictures of a friend we haven't spoken to in 10 years? To read the rants of celebrities or politicians? Room temperature, comfort of the bedding, caffeine intake, and what's on our mind can all play a part in how difficult it might be to try and sleep. But the biggest factor may be the easiest to deal with. Most of what might be happening overnight on our laptops, tablets and phones can be dealt with in the morning, and with greater ability for discernment after a good night's sleep.
Our hearts, minds, and mood are being impacted by lack of sleep, not to mention our jobs, ability to learn, our creativity and clarity. There are legitimate reasons we may have a sleepless night, but for the health of our brains and bodies we need to do all we can to shut out the noise and place a higher premium on shut eye. That's my outlook.
By Shelley Luedtke