Last month, I explained that working an average of more than 40 hours a week is counter-productive.  Not surprisingly, some readers protested that working long hours was the only way they could remain competitive.

What I found odd about those comments was that they completely missed the point, which is that the long work hours are making them less productive and therefore less competitive.

Anyway, I was thinking: Maybe the reason those readers didn't understand the post is that they were so sleepy from working long hours that they've lost the ability to think clearly.

If so, that's not surprising because there's a causal connection between consistently long work hours and sleep disorders.  People who constantly work long hours usually don't get enough sleep, and people who don't get enough sleep literally can't think straight.

According to National Sleep Foundation research, workers who don't get enough sleep are more likely to injure themselves at work, have unexplained absences, and to show up for work, even though they're too sick to get any real work accomplished.

Sleep deprived workers are also more likely to be impatient, more likely to have difficulty concentrating and (surprise, surprise!) are less productive than workers who get enough sleep.

Billions in Lost Productivity

How bad is the problem?  Companies lose billions of dollars in worker productivity each year as the result of worker sleepiness, according Dr. Robert Oexman, director of the Sleep to Live Institute.  "Lack of sleep can trigger bad business decisions and damage both personal and business relationships," he explains.

But wait, there's more.

There's also a causal connection between sleep deprivation and obesity, according to research conducted by the Warwick Medical School at the University of Warwick.  Which means that your employees' long work hours are not just making them less productive; they're making your team less healthy, too.

Bad Management, Bad Planning

Ironically, some people brag about all-nighters as if that were some kind of heroism. These are the kinds of boast you don't want to hear from your workers–because these macho marathons are almost always the direct result of lousy planning.

And of course, bosses who demand long hours are only proving that they lack management skills–because only a very silly person would mandate a practice that makes employees dumber by the hour.

The real solution to sleep deprivation at work is, of course, is to change your corporate culture so that consistently long work hours are seen for what really are: an addiction to poor planning and shortsighted management.

And here's a radical idea: How about letting tired employees take naps when they're sleepy?

The Nap Solution

According to the National Sleep Foundation poll, almost a third of American employees report that "daytime sleepiness interferes with work" and about a third of those employees admit that they'd take a nap at work, if allowed to do so.

So let them.

Time expended sleeping, even on the job, can be time well spent if it prevents people from trying to get work done when they're dead on their feet.  Getting plenty of sleep is "better for your memory and your ability to think and process information," Oexman points out.

I have an uncle who earned his first million before he was 30. (That was back in the days when $1 million was real money.) He once told me: "Success is being able to take a nap whenever you want."

So here's my advice to you: If you want to be successful, get plenty of sleep. If you want your team to work smarter, encourage them to do the same. And if that means catching 40 winks in the middle of the workday–or letting your employees do the same–well, so be it.

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