Ask any expert: the importance of sleep should never be underestimated. According to Dr. Maiken Nedergaard, a co-director of the Center for Translational Neuromedicine at the University of Rochester, sleep acts as a dishwasher for our minds, flushing away waste chemicals and toxins each night to help us prepare for the next day. In order for our bodies to do this properly, doctors recommend 7-9 hours per night for adults. And as for those who think they don’t need much sleep? Not true. Research published in Science shows that only 1 percent of the population has the genetic mutation that allows them to physiologically get by on fewer than 6 hours of sleep. This means that unless you’ve had a doctor tell you that you fall into this rare 1 percent, getting enough sleep has significant implications for your productivity, stress levels, and overall well-being.
One of the most important things you can do for your company is to dispel notion that late night emailing and burning the midnight oil are the habits of heroes. The science clearly shows that the opposite is true. But our work cultures have glamorized the habits of workaholics for so long that, as a manager, you play a key role in changing what your team believes about the importance of sleep in a world of constant emails and never ending to-do lists. Helping your team make sleep a priority just might be the easiest way to boost productivity and performance.
Start by setting aside time to have a conversation with your team about your expectations for them outside of work hours. Make it clear that being always on is not a team priority by highlighting sleep’s influence on everything from attention and concentration to learning and memory. You want your team to perform at their best when they’re at work, and these qualities are key.
While awareness should be the foundation, true change needs to be rooted in your team’s culture, and you have to be the role model in chief of practicing what you preach. This means not rewarding employees for pulling all-nighters, not congratulating workers for answering emails immediately after they’re sent, and encouraging your team to take time to recharge when they need it. If someone worked late on a project, give him or her permission to come in late the next morning. Remember, they’ll respond to whatever incentives you set up.
One of the easiest ways to normalize the conversation about prioritizing rest and self-care is to point to modern society’s superheroes — athletes. Elite athletes have long known that sleep is the ultimate performance enhancer. Five-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady goes to bed at 8:30 p.m. to ensure he’s well-rested, while Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps tracks his sleep as rigorously as his swimming times. College athletic coaches take sleep so seriously that some put their players to bed each night. And a study released this year shows that professional baseball players have better batting averages after getting more sleep.
Another way to improve your team’s culture is to set boundaries. Test a policy in which your team only emails between certain hours.
Here are a few more ways you can encourage your team to get more sleep:
Be a role model: Start your next team meeting with a conversation about your own sleeping habits. Regardless of whether you’re a champion sleeper or a work in progress, talking to your team about the performance enhancing benefits of sleep and why you, as the team leader, prioritize rest will help them to see why they should prioritize it, too.
Experiment with boundaries on work communications: If employees think they need to be responding to emails at all hours, they’ll never be able to fully unwind. To ensure nighttime is reserved for rest, let your team know that if there’s something urgent, you’ll call or text them to ensure they know about it. This way they won’t sit by their smartphone all evening refreshing their inbox.
Encourage your team to recharge when they need it: Sometimes we need more than a night’s sleep to feel well rested. If your team has been working hard to hit a deadline, let them know that it’s okay to come in later in the morning or take a recharge day to reset.