How to get more sleep
A third of people in the UK get less than the recommended 7-9 hours a night, according to the National Sleep Foundation. But ostrich pillows, nap pods, wearable devices and sleep robots can all supposedly help. The FT's Daniel Garrahan tests out some of the latest sleep solutions
Filmed by Petros Gioumpasis and James Sandy. Produced and edited by Daniel Garrahan
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DANIEL GARRAHAN: Modern life moves quickly-- too quickly for some-- and it's affecting our sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, a third of people in the UK get less than the recommended seven to nine hours a night.
MARCO HAFNER: We all have a smartphone and a tablet. Exposure to this blue light of those devices has negative consequences for our sleep quality and our sleep duration. Elevated levels of stress can have a negative impact on your sleep.
And choose any song you want--
DANIEL GARRAHAN: What can we do about it?
Forgive me the saying that Sleep Robot sounds a bit weird.
And is the answer napping at work?
CARA MOORE: When you feel your concentration waning, sitting at your desk, don't grab the coffee. Don't grab chocolate and sugary drinks. Have a nap.
DANIEL GARRAHAN: Sleep is important for well-being and for business. But our minds are overstimulated. We stay up too late, binging on box sets, as smartphones and other screens are never too far away.
JULIAN JAGTENBERG: We are in the middle of a sleep crisis. Globally, the WHO has declared that sleep deprivation is a huge risk, not only on our health, but also on our economy.
DANIEL GARRAHAN: So I'm going to look at some of the latest solutions on offer.
Ostrich pillows, nap pods, wearable devices, and sleep robots can all supposedly help.
So you've developed a Sleep Robot to try and combat this problem. How does it work?
JULIAN JAGTENBERG: You hold it during the night, like this, as a Teddy bear. It will start to mimic the physical sensation of the falling and rising of the breath, which will be synchronised to you. And it guides you to a meditative state of breathing. And in combination with a speaker that is in there, you can listen to guided meditation or a lullaby.
DANIEL GARRAHAN: It doesn't look like a robot, it is fair to say.
JULIAN JAGTENBERG: What makes it a robot is the fact that it can detect your sleep stage. It detects your breathing pace. And based upon the breathing pace, it will tailor its behaviour to get you to sleep in a personal way.
I hope that every bedroom in the world will one day have Sleep Robots in them.
DANIEL GARRAHAN: Well, I'm not sure there's space for a sleep robot in my bedroom just yet.
You're supposed to hold it of this. But It just doesn't feel right.
I tried it for a few nights, but I tend to sleep on my front and I couldn't get comfortable while cradling.
Can I fall asleep like this?
SUBJECT 1: I don't think I could.
DANIEL GARRAHAN: But this lack of sleep is adding up. Marco Hafner, Chief Economist at Rand Europe, produced a report looking at the economic costs.
MARCO HAFNER: If you have less than six hours a night, over a kind of longer period of time, this is where negative consequences on your health and your well-being, but also on your productivity, can set in.
Sleep deprivation costs the UK economy somewhere between 1% and 2% of GDP every single year. That's roughly about $440 billion pounds. People, or individuals, or employees who don't sleep enough, they're more likely to be absent from work, much more likely to get a common cold or a flu. Or you come to work, but you're not as productive as you could be.
An individual who sleeps, on average, less than six hours a night, loses an average of about five working days more, compared to an individual who sleeps somewhere between seven and nine hours.
DANIEL GARRAHAN: So if you were to add that, what does that look like at a sort of national level?
MARCO HAFNER: It's probably in the hundreds of thousands days lost in the UK.
DANIEL GARRAHAN: So we're losing hundreds of thousands of days of work each year due to sleep deprivation?
MARCO HAFNER: Yes.
DANIEL GARRAHAN: But do we all really need eight hours sleep every night? Some successful CEOs and politicians are said to survive on much less.
MARCO HAFNER: The question is whether all these politicians and business leaders who claim that they only need two hours of three hours of sleep a night are within this group of natural short sleepers. It's questionable. Potentially, if they do this over a longer period of time, that will have negative consequences for their health and potentially, their productivity.
DANIEL GARRAHAN: Even if you're lucky enough to be one of those people who get the recommended seven to nine hours sleep a night, a daily power nap could still boost productivity and well-being.
Cara Moore, founder of ProNappers, is on a mission to change attitudes to napping in the workplace.
CARA MOORE: So as a nap fanatic I want to evangelise about napping. Set a timer for 20 minutes, because you don't want to nap for more than 20 minutes. If you do, you'll get into what we call the sleep inertia, and you'll wake up feeling groggy.
But, I mean, I'm a nap pro. I can even nap for 5 minutes or 10 minutes, and it makes such a difference to my productivity in the afternoon. We want to normalise napping in the workplace, and to make it acceptable and accessible for all.
DANIEL GARRAHAN: That all sounds great. But where do you go to nap in the office? Weird, or--
The reality, according to a ProNappers survey, is grim.
CARA MOORE: Three quarters of our survey told us that they had napped at work. When we drill down into where they had napped, the results were staggering.
DANIEL GARRAHAN: This is somebody napping on the toilet, by the looks of it.
CARA MOORE: Yes. So 23% of our survey who had napped at work, had gone to loo to take a nap.
DANIEL GARRAHAN: Wow.
CARA MOORE: The most common place that people went to nap during the working day was in their car, or at your desk, or under your desk.
DANIEL GARRAHAN: I mean, how on earth does somebody's nap under their desk?
CARA MOORE: Well, I can nap anywhere. So if really, there was no alternative and I was in an open-plan office and there was really nowhere else to go, then I would just put my head down on under a desk.
DANIEL GARRAHAN: So just legs poking out then, just sleep a bit longer for my nap. Don't mind my legs. A little trip hazard, maybe.
DANIEL GARRAHAN: A UK startup, Podtime, says it has the solution. It's sold 600 nap pods to companies in over 20 countries.
DAVID VIGNALOU: So you go in there, you slow the door. You're in there and no one can see you.
DANIEL GARRAHAN: So this is going to help change the culture at companies where people maybe aren't used to napping, perhaps because of a lack of privacy. This is giving them that privacy to feel relaxed enough in order to drop off.
DAVID VIGNALOU: Yes, indeed. It's actually quite a small footprint. Once you're in there, it feels quite spacious.
DANIEL GARRAHAN: There's more space inside the pod than I imagined, but I'm not convinced claustrophobic people would agree. It isn't soundproof, either. But it's comfortable and private.
Nick Taylor uses the Podtime Nap Pod in his workplace about once a week, and he encourages his staff to do the same.
NICK TAYLOR: Sleep is a natural part of a human's life. And it's important that we are well-rested for our brain to function well. So I don't see any reason why we wouldn't want people in the workplace to take time out and take a sleep for 20 minutes or something. And then come back in feeling more alert and more engaged.
DANIEL GARRAHAN: A cynic, though, would say that this is about keeping your employees at their desk for longer.
DAVID VIGNALOU: It's not about a 9-5 day anymore. Your emails don't stop at 5:00. They don't start at 9:00. The lines are blurred between the office and home. So I think it's about empowering employees actually, to offer them a place to rest. I don't think it's about being cynical and--
DANIEL GARRAHAN: Not about getting their pound of flesh for the employer?
DAVID VIGNALOU: Absolutely not.
DANIEL GARRAHAN: OK, but wouldn't a more progressive company maybe give the staff the flexibility to maybe to work at home rather than to nap but stay in the office for longer?
DAVID VIGNALOU: Yeah, working from home is more mainstream. But for example, if your client facing, you cannot tell an employee, OK, come at 10:00 if you're tired. If you have to actually be there for a client at 9:00, that's not going to work, I think.
DANIEL GARRAHAN: These days, it isn't just the big tech companies or startups that provide nap stations. Even The Financial Times has a relaxation room.
OK, so it's a small space with room for just two people in a building that holds several hundred. No nap pods here, for now. So I wouldn't say that there's a widespread nap culture at the FT just yet.
I can't imagine relaxing enough at work to drop off, when a colleague could walk in at any moment to find me snoring away.
The ProNappers provide me with an Ostrich Pillow, a temper eye mask, and a nap aroma inhaler. So it's now or never.
I think I did just drop off there, which surprised me. I wasn't sure I was going to be able to, wasn't sure I'd be able to relax, sitting at work with a camera pointing at me. But I think I probably did.
I've been in here for about 20 minutes. And despite the noise from the traffic, noise from the road, I think I had about 10 or 15 minutes there.
According to my Fitness Tracker, I was asleep for 13 minutes. It doesn't sound like much, but I leave the relaxation room feeling refreshed and alert.
It's never been easier to monitor the quality of our sleep, thanks to wearable technology. Fitbit devices analyse sleep and provide a score based on resting and sleeping heart rates, and the amount of time spent in each sleep cycle. A score of over 90 is generally considered excellent. Anything over 80 is usually good.
I'm struck by my own scores, though. I tend to get less than the recommended seven hours a night, sometimes a lot less. While my Fitbit sleep score is usually fair, rather than good to excellent. But according to Fitbit, I'm not alone.
CONOR HENEGHAN: The global average is just a little bit short of seven hours. If we could move the global average up 30 minutes, I think that will be a big benefit.
DANIEL GARRAHAN: And will that apply to me, personally? I'm getting somewhere between six and seven hours sleep. My sleep score is usually somewhere around the 75 mark.
CONOR HENEGHAN: It would be nice if you're able to get more sleep. When you talk to people about why they do not sleep enough, a lot of cases, it's not a lack of desire or interests. it's that they have to deal with the reality of getting a kit to school or they've got an early start at work. What we're trying to do is provide, at least, information.
DANIEL GARRAHAN: But there's a danger that access to too much information could have an adverse effect.
MARCO HAFNER: If your someone who suffers from insomnia, or generally you worry about your sleep and you start tracking your sleep, and you see that you potentially sleep less than the recommended seven to nine hours, you may start actually to worry. And due to this worry, you sleep even less.
DANIEL GARRAHAN: Yeah, there's a danger that we have too much data available sometimes, perhaps.
MARCO HAFNER: It can be very important to track your sleep and your sleep quality. At the same time, if it's really negatively affecting your sleep, then it's not a good thing if you start worrying about it.
It's also important to mention that while some of the sleep trackers, and generally trackers, they become more and more sophisticated and better in tracking your sleep, they're still potential not necessarily 100% accurate in measuring your sleep.
CARA MOORE: The way work is going today, people have more autonomy and flexibility about how they work at their best and get their job done. So for some people, it will be going for a run. For other people, it's having a nap.
And I think if you're one of those people who absolutely feel that sort of compulsion to shut your eyes, rather than just powering through, or having a coffee, or going out for a cigarette, have a nap.
DANIEL GARRAHAN: It feels like there's some way to go before work naps catch on everywhere. But there are still many ways we can try to improve our sleep. Going to bed earlier, cutting the blue lights at bedtime, or trying the latest tech gadget could leave you feeling refreshed and more productive. It won't all work for everyone, so a holistic approach might be the best bet. I'm going to get on the case-- just as soon as I stop feeling so tired.