Even before the uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans were underslept. A large body of research shows we were quite unproductive as a result. During the current crisis, we face even more threats to both sleep and productivity: anxieties keep us up at night, while distractions working from home, burnout from a lack of boundaries between our professional and personal lives, and the cognitive overload of Zoom all curb our focus. Now, more than ever, it's imperative to understand the connection between sleep and productivity and invest in your team's rest.
There's a deep body of research on the negative effects of sleep deprivation on mental processing. The prefrontal cortex area of the brain, which directs what psychologists call "executive functioning", has been found to be particularly impaired by a lack of sleep. Problem solving, reasoning, organizing, inhibition, planning, and executing plans - processes essential to performing our jobs - are all the domain of the prefrontal cortex. It is true basic motor and visual skills decline when people are sleep deprived, but they do so not nearly to the same extent as these higher-order mental skills.
And the more sleep deprived you are, the worse the consequences. This is the concept of Sleep Debt - how much sleep you miss, or owe your body, relative to your sleep need over the course of 14 plus days. The bigger the debt, the worse the impact on how you perform your job. Yet, when organizations think of ways to make their teams more productive, more regular sleep is rarely the answer.
The last 100 years of sleep science includes tens of thousands of studies on the direct impact of sleep debt on workplace performance, and the implications are becoming harder to ignore.
Deloitte, the multinational professional services network, has escalated sleep deprivation to a "business issue", supporting the scientific community's findings that "people’s ability to learn, concentrate, and retain information is greatly impacted by how well-rested they are.” This remains the case regardless of remote work practices or the status of the COVID-19 pandemic. Indeed, rigorous academic research shows that sleep debt affects productivity in profound ways:
Worse, sleep debt can have negative consequences for traits and habits that foster team collaboration and morale, including:
It’s actually possible to measure the productivity costs of sleep debt in dollars and cents. In an 8-month controlled trial we ran with a Fortune 200 sales team, sellers using Rise increased key activities as their sleep improved. Outbound calls increased by 50%, while overall revenue increased by 14%. When you assume roughly 70% of your salesforce is underslept, it's easy to see how fatigue-related productivity losses add up quickly.
So why don’t organizations prioritize sleep? Caffeine may be one reason, since we can use it to counteract low levels of wakefulness. But this use ultimately boomerangs, as caffeine negatively impacts that night's sleep, triggering a vicious cycle.
The more insidious reason leaders don’t focus more on sleep debt is we as humans tend to underestimate just how underslept we are and how impaired our performance really is. Indeed, sleep researchers have wondered, if sleep is so important to our daily performance, then why don't we realize it? What they've found consistently is significantly sleep-deprived individuals repeatedly rate themselves subjectively as only moderately sleepy. In “The Secret Career Booster That Costs You Nothing” the author aptly describes the findings of seminal research: "Lack of sleep ... apparently tricks you into thinking you’re an office all-star. People who slept just six hours per night for two weeks functioned as poorly as if they’d gone without sleep for 48 hours—yet they thought they were performing at the top of their game."
The good news is some organizations appear to be changing their tune. Google and Goldman Sachs cover healthy sleep in employee trainings. Aetna actually pays its employees about a buck for every night they sleep seven to nine hours. We at Rise Science are seeing an uptick in companies prioritizing sleep for improved productivity outcomes.
The even better news is that improving our sleep—and reaping the rewards for productivity—is in our control (unlike much of the current moment). Managers and other organizational leaders can encourage their teams to harness the benefits of regular sleep with a solution like Rise.
Why Rise? Rise unlocks the real-world benefits of better sleep by making sleep data both predictive and actionable.
Because we believe in better sleep for better outcomes, your Rise experience begins with selecting a goal. The app prompts users to select one from several options. Sellers often choose "improve productivity", but we also see a lot of interest in "be less tired during the day" and "reduce anxiety" - choices that make a lot of sense now that our lives have been turned upside down, and always.
From there, Rise provides users with a single KPI to measure progress towards that goal: your sleep debt. Your sleep debt is the most important indicator of how you feel and perform. To calculate your sleep debt, we use a 14-day diminishing weighted function. This means that across the 14 nights of sleep that comprise your sleep debt, last night matters most, and the import declines from there.
We also guide users to pay down their sleep debt with a personalized routine to prioritize sleep. This custom schedule is comprised of up to 16 behavior changes or reinforcements that take into account your existing activity schedule and suggest ways it can be optimized to meet your goal. Users can set custom notifications to be reminded about any of these habits throughout the day, including when in the day to have your last cup of coffee or switch to decaf, or when to begin your evening winddown routine. To help users make the connection between sleep debt and how they feel, the app prompts you to rate how you feel each morning and shows your sleep rating alongside your sleep debt over time.
To help you create these habits for improved sleep and better outcomes, we've distilled the last 100 years of sleep science to the activities, behaviors, and environmental recommendations with the greatest scientific consensus. Rise cuts through the noise of "sleep hygiene" to provide users with information they know they can trust. Sleep is a highly complex biological process that's been evolving for hundreds of thousands of years. Your brain optimizes its activity naturally while you're asleep. Our job at Rise is to help you encourage that natural process by giving you recommendations that promote naturalistic sleep.
And Rise works. Teams using Rise sleep longer, earlier, and accumulate less sleep debt. In a recent study conducted in partnership with the University of Washington*, Rise users moved their bedtimes 1.5 hours earlier, slept on average 48 minutes longer, decreased their sleep debt by 3 hours, and normalized their bedtimes.
We've also proved real-world outcomes. In the aforementioned controlled trial we ran with a Fortune 200 sales team, sellers using Rise increased key activities as their sleep improved. Outbound calls increased by 50%, while overall revenue increased by 14%. And, critically for sales leaders, 100% of the team felt by using Rise the company wanted them to succeed and cared about their wellbeing.
A lot is uncertain right now, but the need to run a business remains. If you’re looking for tools and tricks to stabilize your team’s productivity, why not start with the one that is a certainty? Sleep is the most important investment you can make.
Head to https://www.risescience.com/rise-for-sales-teams to learn more.
*Job Performance in Athletes and Salespeople: An Observational Study of Performance, Sleep, and Mobile App Usage. Study currently in peer review.
Learn more about Rise for sales teams.