As working from home has become the norm for many, the line between being at work and off the clock is blurring. As a result, the threat of burnout looms large.
Historically, chronic stress – such as high work demands, lack of support at work and inability to mentally let go of work during off hours – has been the go-to culprit. However, recent research suggests that undersleeping has a more profound impact on burnout than stress.
To keep burnout at bay, prioritize your team’s wellbeing by focusing on their sleep.
Reframing the Role of Sleep for Your Team
Many employees adopt an “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” mentality at work, thinking that more time awake will yield better results. This philosophy is misguided, however—to be at your most productive, your brain and body need regular, sustained periods of rest.
This brings us to four primary lessons:
1. Recovery is essential to productivity.
When you sleep, your brain conducts a multitude of intricate processes that ready you for the next day. It consolidates memory, solidifies learned information, and rebuilds emotional fortitude.
It can be tough to push back against the dominant mode of thought in corporate culture. But a cultural shift around sleep—and even workplace napping—is taking place. Companies in the know have begun to acknowledge what experts like Harfoush have been saying for years: “If you’re a high performer and recovery isn’t an intentional and strategic part of your time and workflow, you’re only damaging your output in the long run.”
2. Sleep debt is the No. 1 KPI.
Every one of us has an innate sleep need, with the average hovering around eight hours or so. If you’re consistently sleeping less than this amount, you’re racking up sleep debt, that is, how much sleep you owe yourself, relative to your personal sleep need, over the past two weeks.
After a Fortune 200 company used Rise Science to minimize their sleep debt over a period of eight months, they reported a 14 percent increase in monthly revenue and a 50 percent increase in outbound sales calls. Reducing sleep debt quantifiably boosts success.
3. Your team is likely underslept and underperforming already.
Humans overwhelmingly tend to overestimate how much time we spend asleep. And sleep-deprived people don’t have an accurate perception of their performance. They think that they’re operating as normal, or even optimally when their cognitive skills have actually taken a measurable dive. Over time, people acclimate to the effects of sleep loss, unaware that they’re adjusting to lower and lower standards for their work.
4. Having a well-rested team requires a long-term approach.
Sleep debt tracks the sleep you owe over two weeks, not just the last night or two. To protect your team against the specter of sleep debt, you need a strategy that can withstand its cumulative nature. The evening wind-down routine is a straightforward and powerful way to begin improving sleep.
What Does an Effective Wind-Down Period Look Like?
As a sleep aid and anti-burnout measure, the evening wind-down is about working with your biology and environment to perform small, purposeful actions that are scientifically proven to lead to better sleep.
Here are some tips for making the most of your evenings:
1. Be dedicated and consistent
- Schedule your wind-down period with the same commitment as you would any sales task.
- Make it the same time each night. Regularity is huge when it comes to retraining your body and brain.
2. Keep the lights dim or off
- Turn off as many lights as you can. Sub in candles for electric lighting, or use dimmer lamps.
- Avoid exposure to the blue light that comes from your screens, which tricks your brain into thinking it’s still daytime. We recommend wearing blue light blocking glasses if you can’t completely ditch your screens.
3. Keep it cool
- 65–68 degrees Fahrenheit. As your body readies for sleep, your temperature drops slightly and your bedroom can help facilitate this biological shift.
- Before bed, take a hot shower or bath. Hot water brings blood to the surface of your skin, resulting in a sleep-promoting dip in your core temperature.
4. Let go of your work-related (and other) worries
- Detach from thoughts of work and other stressors. Immerse yourself in total me-time–meditate, do yoga, read, or try other activities that clear your mind.
- Refrain from activities that promote arousal. Minimal Netflix, video games, social media, etc. And definitely no work tasks! You want this to be a period of mental deceleration.
- Try a brain dump: give yourself 15 minutes to focus on, and write down, all of the items that are worrying you. Offloading these thoughts in a brief time slot like this can help you to purge them before bed and fall asleep easier.
- Experiment with different relaxation techniques designed to lower stress and promote sleep. These can include diaphragmatic breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and listening to ambient sounds.
Lead Your Team to Better Sleep
You’re a major source of inspiration and motivation for your team, and you have the sway to determine the office’s culture around business and rest.
If you devalue sleep, and ennoble the “always on” mentality, your team is likely to follow suit. On the other hand, leaders who visibly support a healthy work-life balance and encourage “logging off” from work during non-work hours have better-rested and more engaged teams.
To combat burnout and nurture productivity, you’ll need to enact a new vision for your team—one that reworks their daily and nightly routines to respect their need for recovery.