Did you know that our society is becoming sleep-deprived? This causes all manner of fatigue-related problems in the workplace – not just a reduction of effectiveness and efficiency, but also safety. We see messages about fatigue on our roads – but the same message should also be shouted in the workplace. Many of the worst accidents we’ve seen in recent times have occurred at the end of long shifts – Chernobyl being just one example.
Part of the cause is that almost all of us are awake for longer hours than a century ago, due to the opportunities afforded by electricity. Add to that the impact of an increasing global economy, the advent of the internet and modern telecommunications and we discover that since the 1980s many people have built up an increasing sleep deficit.
How many people do you know who never turn off their Blackberries or other PDAs (and will answer them if they ring during the night)? (No wonder they’re called Crackberries now!) Or take their laptops home almost every night so they can continue to work? Or work across borders and have to get up early or stay up late to talk to colleagues or clients on other sides of the world? Or do ‘stuff’ on their computers late at night?
Less than 40 years ago we didn’t have 24-hour TV, we didn’t have DVDs, and we certainly didn’t have computers and the World Wide Web. In only a few decades the way we live has changed dramatically, and there are consequences.
Hey, I’m not trying to turn the clock back. I love the way we can communicate so freely and readily around the globe in today’s world. However, I do encourage people to notice what’s happening and how we manage it. Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should. Efficiency isn’t about cramming more into any 24-hour period. Instead the more useful and higher-level skill is to become better at exercising wisdom of choice.
Any of us operating in a global economy (and I include myself in this group) has to do funny hours some of the time. Almost all of us will sit up late from time to time to watch a gripping TV programme, a favourite sporting event or the latest breaking news on something dramatic on the other side of the world. But ask yourself – how often is that normal for you?
If you’re finding that switch-off time is the exception rather than the rule, what are you doing to your body? And how effective are you – truthfully? How creative is your thinking? Or is there a sense of overwhelming commitments, relentless pressure, a feeling of being on a spinning treadmill.
A simple solution
You might think it’s a bit way out, but power naps are a very simple way to solve the problem. It was power napping that kept Winston Churchill operating at full steam through all the tough WW II years. When tired he’d pop upstairs (when he was working at Downing Street) and hop into bed for about 20 minutes. He also had a special nap chair near his office. A few of the other famous names who’ve applied the same habit – Margaret Thatcher, John F. Kennedy, Beethoven, Benjamin Franklin, Leonardo Da Vinci, Eleanor Roosevelt, Johannes Brahms, John D. Rockefeller, Dali, Robert Louis Stevenson and Albert Einstein.
Quite aside from the fatigue issue, have you noticed that the best ideas never come when you’re sitting at your desk? And how often is a brilliant idea or the solution to a problem sitting in your mind when you wake in the morning. Imagine tapping into that resource through the day. Often it is when we nap that fresh ideas, new insights, and solutions rise to the surface of our mind. According to the Salk Institute for Biological Studies (http://www.salk.edu/index.php) naps enable our brain activity to remain high throughout the day. If we fail to take a nap, our brain activity declines.
Einstein knew this. He was very deliberate in his use of power naps, using them to solve problems. He would relax in a comfortable chair or on a sofa, his head propped on his hand whilst holding a handful of ball bearings. When the hand relaxed enough to drop the ball bearings he would wake up and quickly write down whatever was in his mind. Many of his most brilliant ideas came to him in this alpha state or twilight zone. He relied on the noise of the falling ball bearings to wake him up; to have slept longer would have taken him into deep sleep.
‘But we’re a corporate environment. It’s not ok to nap at work!’ you might be saying. Really? This article is about ROI. Seems to me that this could be a very practical and easy-to-achieve ROI. If employers took time to analyse the benefits they’d reap from increased effectiveness if employees could nap as needed in the afternoon, you might be surprised how much support the concept would get. If the company can get higher productivity with fewer mistakes, why wouldn’t it support such behaviour?
Maybe many staff work in an open plan environment. There are other solutions – going out of the building, sitting in your car in the car park, utilising a sick room, or perhaps there’s a quiet room that can be accessed. Nike is just one of a number of large corporations who now provide quiet rooms (or relaxation rooms) which their employees can use as they choose (as long as there’s no talking). Other companies make it ‘ok’ for staff to leave their desks to refresh and revitalise.
If you’d like more information, check out a new company on the scene in New Zealand –http://www.metronaps.co.nz/nz/training_solutions.aspx or do a Google on “Power Naps”.