What is a person to do when two essential habits of busy health-minded Americans come into conflict every weekday morning? Time does not allow for both. One has to give. Does one get a healthy amount of sleep or carve into that time to get a good workout before heading off to work? You might have already guessed where the choice is leaning. A new study by the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine in Philadelphia shows that as exercise increases, sleep decreases among those who wake up early to work out before heading to their jobs. This situation fits well within the definition of the term “counter-productive.”
Both the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society recommend we get seven or more hours of sleep per night. Everything science has learned about sleep through the years continues to emphasize its importance to our mental and physical health. Yet more than a third of adults in the U.S. admit to sleeping less than that. According to the Center for Sleep and Cognition at Harvard Medical School, the average American today sleeps less than seven hours a night. This lines out at about two hours less than we slept a century ago.
Being sleep-deprived is not just an American problem. Recent statistics show that more than 71 percent of Japanese adult men sleep fewer than seven hours a night. According to a 2009 study by Rand Corporation designed to quantify the cost of insufficient sleep, Japan lost an estimated $138 billion a year through higher mortality risk and productivity losses associated with sleep shortage. At the same time, the calculated cost of the toll of sleep-deprived expenses to the U.S. economy was estimated to be around $411 billion a year.
“Japanese people have a mentality that working hard, sacrificing sleeping hours is a good thing,” Jun Kohyama, a neurologist in the Japanese Society of Sleep Research tells OZY, “but without enough sleeping hours, your brain cannot function well. I’m deeply concerned that nowadays Japanese people are less able to make a rational judgment because of sleep shortage.”
Following a 2014 directive by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare offering the corporate world “guidance” on the importance of sleep, the government has stepped up its efforts to change the long-held “sleep is expendable” attitude that has bolstered the evolution of the Japanese workplace for decades.
In response, innovative companies have begun to approach the country’s sleep problem as a business opportunity, according to an OZY report. In one radical experiment in incentives and productivity, employees of one company are being rewarded for sleep by being paid a bonus – a “sleep debt” – if they prove they sleep longer than six hours each night. Technology is now making this and other health-enhancing incentives for employees possible. Results from the “sleep debt” experiment can be accurately calculated from the output of their smartphones and data from sensors voluntarily embedded in their mattresses. If they are able to keep up a steady pace of extended sleep, workers can accumulate the equivalent of an additional $562 a year.
They are not the only company to have spotted this opportunity. According to OZY, since April, Hitachi has been working on a service where companies would pay them for the administration of a system that tracks employees’ physical activity and sleep.
In a report this September on the future of the Japanese economy, investment bank Morgan Stanley profiles more than 100 unlisted but extremely promising technology startups. Several had business models centered on the thesis of the importance of investing in the well-being of their staff. That pressure to focus on employee well-being, the report suggests, will increase significantly as demographics impel Japan’s workforce to shrink and companies fight to attract and retain talent.
So where are we as to pushback to the idea of seeing sleep as an adversary, as something that gets in the way of productivity and play? We know more than ever about how we are hard-wired to rest and how it keeps us healthy. Yet our society continues to celebrate sleep deprivation as a lifestyle.
In a story in the August issue of National Geographic magazine, internationally best-selling author Michael Finkel writes “that sleep is ancient and that its original and universal function is not about organizing memories or promoting learning but more about the preservation of life itself. It’s evidently natural law that a creature, no matter the size, cannot go full-throttle 24 hours a day.”
According to Finkel, not only are we sleeping two hours less than we did a century ago, the imbalance between our lifestyle and the sun cycle is now epidemic.
As if we needed further proof, researchers at Michigan State University have conducted the largest experimentally controlled study on sleep deprivation to date. It revealed just how detrimental operating without sleep can be in everything from bakers adding too much salt to cookies to surgeons botching surgeries. It substantiated that lack of sleep is one of the primary reasons for human error and that many people in critical professions are sleep-deprived. Research has found that nearly one-quarter of people in procedure-heavy jobs have fallen asleep on the job.
These are some thoughts to sleep on. I will have more on this next week.
Write to Chuck Norris with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook’s “Official Chuck Norris Page.” He blogs at ChuckNorrisNews.blogspot.com.