What recent studies show about the link between a good night’s sleep and a productive day’s work
An FKD Feature exclusive

Ever had one of those days at work where you can’t keep your eyes open? Where you are nobly resisting the urge to kick your feet up on your desk, prop your head onto a makeshift pillow and thereby steal a few extra hours of sleep? Well, that would be time-theft from your company, and chances are that your employer would be none too happy to catch you doing it. But your exhaustion may not be your fault. Turns out that people have certain ideal hours in which they work to their peak productivity. It all revolves around getting your “biological night” of sleep, and the veracity of this “biological night’s sleep” claim has been borne out by quite a few studies.

“Chronotypes” come under analysis

“Chronotype” has to do with a person’s personal and optimal time to go to sleep, and then when to wake from that sleep cycle. Six hours starting at eight p.m.? Nine hours starting at eleven p.m.? It all depends on your own individual chronotype. Your chronotype not only impacts fatigue and workplace productivity, but what’s more, not following your own personalized chronotype can lead to obesity, heart disease, anxiety and depression. And the bad news, according to Celine Vetter, director of the University of Boulder’s epidemiology lab, is that 80 percent of people’s chronotypes are misaligned with their workday. “If we consider your individual chronotype and your work hours,” Vetter said in an interview with The New York Times, “the chances are very high that there’s quite a bit of misalignment.”

Many researchers go so far as to say that if you are relying on an alarm clock to wake you up, then you are not getting a real, biological night’s sleep, and you are not following the internal wisdom of your personal chronotype. One of the most recent studies was conducted at ThyssenKrupp steel factory in Germany with their steel workers as its subjects. Those workers who considered themselves night owls were assigned the “late-night shift,” and those who were more morning people were assigned the day shift. It turned out that this led to about an hour’s extra sleep per night for most of the workers, as well as 16 percent more restful sleep per week.

Further studies

Call-centers are, according to studies at a mobile phone company, a packaging manufacturer and an oil transportation company, sleep nightmares — and hugely detrimental — for one’s circadian rhythm. The centers’ workers often suffered from more work-related pain and discomfort than an average worker at a workplace with a better work-life balance. An additional study, taking place at a 2015 Harvard Medical School, found that for night owls, working during the day increased their risk of diabetes.

Dr. Till Roenneberg, a chronobiologist at Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich who has collected data from more than 300,000 subjects, said that chronotypes tend to chart like a bell curve, with most people falling somewhere in the middle and a relative few having extreme chronotypes at each end of the curve. Most people, 13 percent, operate best with sleep cycles from midnight to 8 a.m. Thirty-one percent of people have an earlier natural bedtime, and 56 percent have a later one. That means for at least 69 percent of the population, getting to the office by 8 or 9 a.m. requires waking up before their body is ready.

At a pharmaceutical company in Denmark known as AbbVie, employee work-life balance satisfaction rose from 39 percent to nearly 100 percent in the past 10 years thanks to a program that sets out to align workdays to their employees’ personal chronotypes. A nine-hour training program helps AbbVie employees to identify when they are most ripe for creative or challenging projects (typically mornings for early risers and afternoons for late risers). Last year, the Denmark division of Great Place to Work, a global organization that ranks companies based on employee satisfaction, named AbbVie the top middle-size company in the country. “The flexibility actually empowers people to deliver the best possible results,” said Christina Jeppesen, the company’s general manager.


Wondering what your own chronotype is? Well, it all depends on when you tend to naturally fall asleep without the intrusion of artificial lights, caffeine, early-rising kids and pets, or other interferent factors. If you find yourself unsure about figuring this out, rest assured (pun intended) that this is not at all an uncommon phenomenon. It has been shown that workplace, family and social obligations and leisure activities heavily get in the way of knowing where your biological rhythm lies. In fact, it is usually the case, according to Camilla Kring, a Danish consultant who has helped employees at AbbVie, Roche, Medtronic and other companies learn to respect their natural sleep cycles, “that people don’t know what [circadian] rhythm they have.”


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Posted 01.17.2019 - 01:50 pm EDT