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"Sleep Excellence" - a major cure for an organisation's bottom line?

07 March 2016

50% of Australian workers experience tiredness in a working week. “Sleep Excellence” could be a way of improving performance.

Sleep is a critical part of our life and one that has an enormous impact on our health and well-being. “Sleep serves to re-energize the body's cells, clear waste from the brain, and support learning and memory. It even plays vital roles in regulating mood, appetite and libido.” (J Peever & B J. Murray in “What Happens in the Brain During Sleep?” Scientific American Mind Sept 2015).

During the daytime billions of neurons are connected and engaged in hugely complex relationships with each other. This can be likened to thousands of individual conversations in a ball-game crowd. (David Eagleman: The Brain: the story of you.)

At rest or at sleep, the brain is still active but neurons become synchronized and rhythmic. “Imagine the crowd at the stadium doing an incessant Mexican wave, around and around.” (Eagleman pg. 31). Most people know the basics of this yet just take a look at our lives: not only is it difficult to turn off during the day, it is now affecting our critical time: sleep.

I have noticed only recently that much of my clinical “one to one” work over the last twelve months has been supporting individuals in overcoming sleep deprivation connected with deep work-related anxiety. Depression and anxiety is a huge cost to the Australian economy. Beyond Blue estimates this at $12.6 billion per year, accounting for up to six million working days of lost productivity per year.

“Anxiety is still the biggest detractor of personal well-being for a significant proportion of Australians, with around 38% rating their anxiety levels as ‘very high’,” says NAB Chief Economist Alan Oster.

Most of the people I have seen are high performing individuals who on the face of it, “together”, are calm under pressure and would most likely be described as successful. The more cases I have taken on, the more I have become curious about this. This is particularly interesting at a time where I see and hear many organizations adopting highly improved office environments and flexible workplace methods including mindfulness programs. In my early healthcare days we had a great question around this: Are we employing a strategy which places an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff with no fence at the top? Is my experience of this increase in sleep deprivation cases an aberration or a significant issue which if improved could help reduce our level of anxiety?

One of XVenture’s underlying philosophies is to work with organisations to improve their overall effectiveness of their prized resource: their people. It got me thinking about how many employees are experiencing the same issues as some of the clients from my clinical work. Sleep deprivation will affect their effectiveness levels through their working life, let alone the risks to safety and their overall health. Continued sleep deprivation leads to higher incidence of heart disease, stroke diabetes and of course accidents.

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, approximately one in three adult Americans aren’t getting enough sleep. The Sleep Deprivation Foundation of America suggested that over 30 million people in the USA were getting less than 6 hours of sleep a night. 50% of respondents to Australian The Big Sleep survey of 2010 said that they were tired a few days a week.

Also significant findings in the 2015 American National Sleep Foundation’s study found that those motivated to sleep well had an improved quality of life and mental and physical health.

Research at the start of the millennium from Loughborough University summarized that sleep deprivation impacted individuals mostly in the pre- frontal cortex of the brain, leading to: impaired language skills-communication; lack of innovation; inflexibility of thought processes; inappropriate attention to peripheral concerns or distraction; over-reliance on previous strategies; unwillingness to try out novel strategies; unreliable memory for when events occurred; change in mood including loss of empathy with colleagues; and inability to deal with surprise and the unexpected. (Harrison and Horne: Journal of Experimental Psychology Vol 6 2000).

Overall, whatever the number and the actual percentages, they are large. Whilst I genuinely believe we need to take individual responsibility for own health, imagine if a major improvement could be made by organizations working on this subject? Imagine the impact on effectiveness and ultimately growth?

In the XVenture MBA unit at MGSM, Leadership and Teams in Action, we coach and educate in the management and behavioural sciences space. Working with high performing post-graduate business students we encourage them to notice and observe their own behaviours and decision-making processes, where there is heightened levels of anxiety, distraction, disruption and relentless concentration required. We also draw attention to the changes made in calm states too. eg. We deliver a specific challenge around calm state (Calm Time © 2014). In undertaking a wide range of experiential challenges over a twenty-hour period their overall improvement in ability is marked as they begin to understand and embrace tools and resources for managing themselves and such situations. Noticeably tiredness is one of the single things that consistently impacts performance detrimentally here too.

Notably, the Calm Time challenge was also used in an XVenture Experience with the two highly successful Sydney Women’s Big Bash cricket teams at the start of their season. “We’ve done some training in pressure situations with XVenture and perhaps that’s helped us today.” (Alex Blackwell, WBBL Champions, Sydney Thunder Captain.)

Using a cricket analogy, the test match form of cricket can take five days of intense concentration. Strange to note that a typical traditional working week is the same, although these days we seem to believe we can and should be on our game for seven days a week, every waking and non-waking hour!

When we are at a low ebb, our decision-making becomes flawed. Our decision-making processes like all our other processes are habit oriented. A recent article by Lieberman et al. (Neuro Leadership Journal) noted that our decision-making is already biased based on similar decisions made; expediency; experience; time and distance and safety aspects (Seed model). As our attention spirals downwards our innate biases in decision-making are exacerbated putting ourselves and those around us at greater risk. To be successful in the work place we need to be on our game. It is expected. “Drop the ball” once and the word is spread around an organization faster than a major launch on social media!

There is no such thing as a typical sleep deprivation case. Each is different. Using “Ericksonian solutions-oriented” methods, a key to a long lasting solution is to find out not just why things happen but also how things happen – the habit orientation that is embedded unconsciously in an individual’s behavior. Interestingly, several of the clients I have dealt with are familiar and have practiced mindfulness, meditative and “in the moment” techniques, yet still have little clarity on “how they do sleep”! (ie the process of someone’s sleep deprivation. )

In one particular case, I worked with a highly successful mid thirties female with a very important executive role. We identified through the clinical process that she would wake up in the middle of the night every night and then “self talk”, “fast switching agendas” and “over-thinking” would occur. This could last for hours putting considerable pressure on the individual to “get back to sleep”. As the time for getting up to go to work got closer it exacerbated the anxiety state. This led to a fear of going to sleep, sleep deprivation and concentration reduction at work. All these things are not uncommon. By using a solutions- oriented process we unearthed together, clear and noticeable specific elements that might or might not have contributed to a sleep problem. These included: watching movies until 9 pm an hour before bed; commitment to turn the phone off at a specific time; going to sleep on her right side but in most cases waking between 2 and 3 am on her back; opening her eyes when awake in the middle of the night; checking the alarm clock on her right hand side when waking in the middle of the night; keeping the curtains and window open to enable a breeze into the room; noticeable good sleeping patterns on holiday; low concentration levels and increase in aggressive/passive aggressive behaviours at specific times of the day; an increase in caffeine intake when energy levels are low.

The starting point in this particular case requires us to rebuild the notion of sleep and how to do it well. Remember, we were never really taught! Within a couple of sessions of focused clinical work, improvements can be made. Not just sleep but also methods and practice for managing the noise of the day too.

Cognitively, changes we need to make can be understood but modern hypnosis utilizes a range of techniques to “reframe” a process into our unconscious, helping create a new and effective habit orientation very quickly. In a relaxed state we are much more open to consider new options and with the right process, these options can be effectively actioned.

Some of the techniques we use in modern clinical hypnosis are relatively straightforward and some are highly sophisticated. Some elements can be taught and used in a simplified “self-hypnosis” form to aid such issues. As an example and starting point just notice the impact sleep deprivation has on you, and also notice what influences your sleep patterns.

As HR specialists have moved from pure admin and processing to trusted advisers to the CEO and coaches of their people, they can and should influence both the top and bottom line of a business. The area of “sleep excellence” can have a major impact on a team and organization’s performance if embraced and treated seriously. Just imagine if we all got enough sleep. A short reflection on yourself and those around you will give you some indication!

Mike Conway is the CEO and Founder of the learning, leadership and media group XVenture. He is also Adj Professor at Macquarie University Graduate School of Management specializing in Leadership, Teamwork , Experiential Learning and EQ. He is a registered clinical hypnotherapist with the AHA, a member of the Australasian Neuroscience Society, Neuroleadership Institute and CAHRI.

To explore and learn more from XVenture about this subject or any of XVenture’s tailored individual, team and organisational programs and content please get in contact.

Visit: www.xventure.com.au

Call: + 612 9922 1622 or

Drop in: 1/ 385-389 Pacific Highway, Crows Nest NSW 2065

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    Hacking means malicious damage or interference and includes, without limitation, mail bombing, propagating viruses, worms or other types of malicious programs, deliberate attempts to overload a system, broadcast attacks or any other method designed to damage or interfere with the operation of a computer system or website;
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