In recent years, the number of studies showing the importance of sleep has been steadily increasing while the incidence of people reporting difficulty sleeping has exploded. This has created a hugely topical subject area with a dearth of high quality information on how to best manage the problem if you are a sufferer. In the light of this, the Franco-British Chamber and CBR & Associés invited a recognized expert, Dr Duforez of the European Sleep Centre, to talk about some of the problems lack of sleep can present in the work environment and to explain how to remedy such difficulties.
Neil Robertson, Vice President of the Franco-British Chamber and Partner at CBR & Associés, introduced the seminar with an anecdotal account of how Dr Duforez has helped him in his profession. Being a lawyer, Neil is sometimes subject to negotiations that can last all night. In order to stay alert, he was advised by Dr Duforez to take mid-negotiation breaks and go for a 10 – 15 minute “power nap” in order to increase alertness, creativity, and cognitive learning skills, all vital benefits when undertaking crunch talks.
Dr Duforez was next to take the microphone and his fascinating and insightful talk included two main areas of focus. The first of these was how to sleep longer and better, which is a subject people commonly associate with psychological wellbeing when, in actual fact, physical factors play a huge part. For example, a mattress suited to your body type can increase deep sleep by 13%. As a person will spend around 20 years of his life in bed, a few more euros spent on a better mattress has got to be worth it.
The next subject was phones; 43% of the French population sleeps with their phones turned on and near them. This is highly detrimental to sleep quality as the blue lights embedded in phone and tablet screens stimulate the brain, thus making the user more awake when they should be winding down. Finally, the subject of stress was addressed; Dr Duforez’s main advice in this department was the paramount importance of exercise in unwinding and taking one’s mind off of stressful factors in life. Studies have also shown that exercise is a more effective way of dealing with depression than antidepressants, which is critical to remember in light of recent research linking depression and insomnia.
Having addressed the subject of quality of sleep, Dr Duforez, drawing on his experience from working with round-the-world sailors and Formula 1 teams, touched upon the practical ways in which people could go about dealing with lack of sleep. As had already been touched upon by Neil Robertson, the principal method is ‘power napping’. The first thing to know about power naps is that it is very important to communicate to your employer that when you are caught snoozing in the early hours of the afternoon, you are not in fact having a siesta but a ‘POWER nap’ (emphasis on the word power is very important here). The second thing to know is how long to nap for. Anything between 10 and 30 minutes is very helpful if you are pressed for time, but in reality anything up to 90 minutes is ideal.
Dr Duforez even showed us, with the use of a very relaxing exercise, how you can have an effective power nap in just 60 seconds. A second way to make sure you can stay alert with minimal sleep is to have a high protein breakfast; this is because protein is broken down by the body more slowly than carbohydrates and therefore nourishes the brain with energy over a longer period.
Finally, an important factor to remember when sleep-deprived, is the brain’s propensity to make errors of judgment and forget critical information. Therefore, it can be very useful to take a 5 second pause, breathe, and re-evaluate before sending an important email or giving instructions to a team member.
As a conclusion to the seminar Johann Sultan, head of the employment law department at CBR & Associés, illustrated what overtired and overworked employees can mean to a company. Whilst there is nothing in the Code du Travail on sleep, Johann feels that it is only a matter of time before this is addressed, particularly given the ever higher incidences of ‘burnout’ suffered by top managers. Johann recounted that the key problem in the rise of ‘burnout’ is the blurring of the private and professional spheres. This could be resolved by respecting a ‘droit à la déconnexion’ when employees leave for the evening in order to ensure that they come back to the office refreshed and ready to work the next day. If companies do not begin to consider this, they are likely to see even higher cases of absenteeism and lower productivity, which would prove very costly.
Before the presentations, the 40-strong audience was provided with complimentary, healthy fruit juices, courtesy of Andros. However, after the seminar, guests were permitted a glass of wine as a reward for staying alert! By 21:30, all the attendees were on their way home, looking forward to a good night’s sleep.
If you would like to find out more about Dr François Duforez and his work, please visit the website of the European Sleep Center: http://www.europeansleepcenter.fr/~europeanc/