The combination of an aging workforce and increased employee healthcare costs has organizations of all sizes developing “wellness” programs.
Whether it is banning smoking from the premises, requiring employees to get an annual physical, offering better food options in the cafeteria or installing treadmills, the goal is seemingly to make workers healthier.
While all of this makes some sense, it misses what is likely the most important contributing factor to overall human health: a good night’s sleep.
Matthew Walker, in his compelling book, Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Dreams and Sleep, makes the case that while getting people moving and eating better are important, adequate and quality sleep is even more vital.
According to Walker, a professor of neuroscience at UC Berkeley, not sleeping enough can lead to many conditions: “Alzheimer’s disease, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, suicide, stroke and chronic pain.” Also: “cancer, diabetes, heart disease…” But he doesn’t just list these horrors.
He explains, at length, how sleep wards them off. For instance, if you imagine your brain as a city, it has a sort of sewage network. When you use your brain to think, your brain cells emanate waste matter. When you sleep, your brain gets a “power cleanse” — some of the cells shrink, allowing cerebrospinal fluid to flush out the debris. Some of this debris is the type of protein that causes Alzheimer’s disease.
Moreover, Walker simply observes that those who sleep less also die younger.
Dishearteningly, at least two-thirds of folks in the developed world don’t get the needed eight hours of sleep our bodies naturally require to fight these conditions off.
Walker points out that “it is no coincidence that countries where sleep time has declined most dramatically over the past century, such as the U.S., the U.K., Japan, and South Korea, and several in western Europe, are also those suffering the greatest increase in rates of the aforementioned physical diseases and mental disorders.”
And, it’s getting worse. Much worse.
Our rising addiction to caffeine and “screens that glow- often consumed at least under the guise of being available after regular business hours- each work against our need for deep, uninterrupted sleep.”
In the end, it seems, any “wellness” program that doesn’t include sleep at its core is marginal at best.