Chronic exhaustion creating working zombies

(WFLX) - Most of us don't get enough sleep at night, and that can lead to poor performance at work the next day. In fact, studies show our nation's chronic exhaustion is costing companies billions of dollars each year.

But now some companies are waking up to the problem and giving their employees some much needed rest.

Take for example, Ben and Jerry's. It has created a special nap room for employees. "The nap room is definitely well loved here, having 15, 20 minutes, even an hour if you need it, makes all the difference," said Liz Stewart, a Ben and Jerry's employee.

They're not alone. A poll from the National Sleep Foundation found 34-percent of employers let their employees nap while on break, while 16-percent set aside a special napping room to do it.

For good reason says national sleep expert Jim Maas. "We are a nation of walking zombies. Seventy-one percent of us are not meeting the required seven and a half to eight and a half hours per night," said Maas.

A Harvard medical school study estimated sleep deprived American workers cost their employers $63 billion in productivity every year.

Ted Olsen, with Power Naps, a company that offers sleep solutions, says that's not all. "Compound that with accidents and other broken equipment because of someone not quite fully on their game, you can add another 30 billion to that figure," he said.

In response, some companies are incorporating sleep experts into their employee wellness programs. One healthcare company offered a six-week course for insomniac employees and found it led to an increase of $672 in productivity for each participant. "We talk about the serious consequences of sleep deprivation in terms of your health and your cognitive behavior, your productivity. We talk about sleep strategies that can be used," said Maas.

Some companies are going beyond a simple nap room, investing in special "nap pods" which provide employees with a dark, soundproof bed. "Just one 26-minute power nap can increase your cognitive skills by 40 percent," said Olsen.

But while some companies are encouraging sleep, others are helping their employees stay awake with special lights designed to regulate melatonin levels. "Many companies are bringing in special lighting to the workplace to give people an energetic boost, so that they're wide awake and alert through the workday or on shift work throughout the work night," said Maas.

As for Ben and Jerry's, they say a simple nap can be a key ingredient to their company's success. "It makes me feel like my employer trusts me and respects me to get my work done, be able to take a break and come back kind of recharged," said Ed Peistrup, a Ben and Jerry's employee.

Some tips for a better night's sleep?

  • Go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning - even on weekends.
  • Avoid alcohol three hours before bed and caffeine in the afternoon.
  • Most importantly: turn off all electronic devices - including tv, iPads and computers - one hour before bedtime. Those gadgets put out daytime spectrum lighting that can block the production of melatonin - the hormone that helps you go to sleep.

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