Harvard’s Big Step into the Sleep Arena

Recently I was invited to attend an event in Boston called Recharge America, put together by Harvard Medical School (HMS). The goal of this group is to create a movement in America to make sleep the clear “third leg of the stool” when it comes toIMG_3420 health pillars – right next to nutrition and exercise. This all took place just a few weeks ago and I thought it was worth a discussion.

Consider some of the data points that are driving the initiative:

  • According to a Harvard Medical School study, sleep deprivation is costing companies in the U.S. $63 billion a year, primarily due to the phenomenon of presenteeism, whereby employees are physically present, but performing at subpar levels.
  • Studies show that youth are accumulating 50 hours of sleep deficiency a month, and there is an epidemic of sleep disorders (estimated between 50-70 million Americans by the Institute of Medicine).
  • Companies today drive their employees to do more with less, and working more and sleeping less is a badge that many wear to prove themselves as top performers worthy of the next promotion.

Think of it this way: if you were to ask 50 people to offer advice on what you should do to eat better, or to instruct you on different ways to exercise, the average person could come up with several things to say. That doesn’t mean the advice is correct or they themselves do any of it, but they could at least have an intelligent conversation about the subject matter. Ask those same 50 people about sleep and see what you get. (Going to bed early to get more sleep doesn’t qualify as good advice.) Do people understand the half-life of caffeine and the negative impact on restorative sleep? As much as we drink, wouldn’t that be good information to have? Can the average person tell you even the most basic information on the stages of sleep or point out any of the signs of sleep apnea? Do the schools teach anything to our kids about sleep health? Do they teach them about food and exercise?

Time is one of the most precious resources we have and we run out of it every day. We work harder than ever before and our kids are involved in so many activities that it is amazing they can do them all and still make time to study. Millions of Americans are walking around as partial zombies trying to fit everything in, sleep deprived, and in a pissy mood because they haven’t slept well. This problem is real.

The approach HMS has taken is to define the problem and bring a wide cut of organizations to the table that have a vested interest in making sure this subject gets the attention it needs and deserves. At this meeting I was joined by some of the top scientists in the world as it relates to sleep; companies in the health care space; and people selling medical devices, diagnostic tools, sound solutions, and even napping pods that can be installed at your office. The mattress industry was also represented by Simmons, King Koil, and Leggett & Platt.

If the group at Harvard Medical School is successful organizing this effort and they are able to drive the importance of healthy sleep, what could that do for the industry? I have said many times that we are not competing with each other, but instead with every other consumer goods company out there trying to earn the available disposable income of OUR customers. If the importance of sleep becomes a bigger deal, and we can connect the products we sell to improving one’s ability to sleep better, then we are going to win big.

If a group of people can break through the media clutter today with a song that tries to help us all understand, “What does the fox say?” we should be able to make a bigger impact on this subject.

(I was not certain I would figure out a way to connect a blog to this recent music video phenomenon, but I just did. If you have not heard this song about the fox before, I apologize in advance for being the one to introduce you to it, but with 120 million views so far you should probably be aware.)

What do you think – should you get involved? Does it make sense for Harvard Medical School to be the backbone of the effort? Tell me in the comments section.

8 thoughts on “Harvard’s Big Step into the Sleep Arena

  1. I was told that in Germany’s factories years ago in the service board were hanged suggestions for a better sleep. Now Germany is n°1 in Europe for competitiveness. And it’s the biggest mattresses market in Europe.
    We can’t leave all the effort on Harvard M.S..We should be globally involved in improving the knowledge of the matter

  2. I have been actively involved in the sales and consultative aspect of the mattress industry for many many years. Over the course of these many years I have happened across a great number of written articles on the benefits of sleep as well as the hazards of not getting enough. The same is true regarding news articles on TV. So many times I have screamed “YES” after devouring such an article while jumping up into the air like a football fan whose team has just scored! All the while thinking this article will make the difference we need to educate well meaning people on why they should invest in a great sleep system not just for themselves, but for their growing kids as well. There are so many things that people can do to improve their sleep habits and hence, their lives such as a regular sleep schedule, bedroom temperature of 62 degrees, no TV in the bedroom, no caffeine after 4:00 PM and the list goes on but is not complicated. To my dismay, no matter the source, not much has had any real impact to speak of with the sole exception of my ability to educate in a one on one setting. I do hope that the Harvard School of Medicine may be the source of the wake up call (pardon the pun) the U.S. needs. After all, where else can you gain so much for doing so little? Time for my nap.

  3. Great insight! I live in an area (not far from Redmond the king of software) where lack of sleep is a badge of courage. This is the area where employees have been known to sleep on the floor of their office as they put so many hours in at work. We must get back to reality, we need to sleep and you are not a slacker if you need more than 5 hours.

    There needs to be a push in this area, and unfortunately coming from the mattress industry – it seems to be a ‘commercial’ so it will be discounted. Coming from an institution like Harvard it becomes more believable. When someone goes to a doctor and complains of sleep problems the first question should be ‘what are you sleeping on?’ Unfortunately, that question rarely comes up in a medical office. We need to educate the medical profession.

    Great blog – keep up the good work.

    The Sleep Store

  4. Grande problema da risolvere, qui in EU abbiamo ancora qualche problema da risolvere – dopo di che si potranno aumentare le ore di sonno.
    Sicuramente ciò che Harvard’s Big Step ha promosso è di grande interesse per tutto il settore Bedding mondiale, auguriamoci che il significato di questi studi sia compreso anche a livello Politico e che si studino delle facilitazioni per un Ricambio più veloce del Materasso –

  5. Big Problem to be solved, here in EU we still have some problem to be solved -. After that you will be able to increase the hours of Sleep
    That certainly CIO Harvard Grande Punto has Promoted Everything is of great interest for the sector Bedding World, let us hope That the meaning of the latter, SIA studies Including Also a political level and that you should study the facilities for UN Faster Mattress Replacement –

  6. I have been in the bedding retail business for over 20 years and it never ceases to amaze me the number of people that don’t realize the importance of a good night sleep or how to get it. Especially the importance for children! I think Harvard being involved would give credibility to us who are trying to teach the consumer.

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