Melissa Webster started her career working on workplace and retail strategy at Barangaroo and calls herself a “a Lendlease graduate”.
Today she’s running a growing business employing 11-12 medical staff and experts to provide sleep and wellness solutions for Australia’s increasingly sleep-deprived office workers.
Her company, SleepFit, has plans to expand into Melbourne and Brisbane within a year. And the company has recently linked with Welnis, a fitout company that also supplies sleep pods, to complete a holistic offering for clients – so sleeping on the job, so to speak.
But what’s driving this optimistic business scenario is the rather less optimistic state of health of our office workers.
According to Webster the combination of corporate expectations and the availability of always-connected technology is depriving us of sleep. Citing research, she says this means the brain is deprived of its ability to properly “cleanse” itself. This can lead to calcium build up in the neural networks, which is now being linked to Alzheimers.
Harvard Medical School’s Ron Kessler has also signalled that sleep disorders are the single greatest contributor to lost working hours, ahead of depression and neck and back pain as a cause of absenteeism and presenteeism.
Corporate culture is being blamed as part of the cause of our general sleep deprivation because of greater competition in jobs and globalisation.
But according to Webster it can also be the cure.
Some of Australia’s top listed companies looking at this issue of staff wellness including working with Webster’s team on sleep and we know Macquarie Bank now has a yoga room, music room and chooks on the roof at its 50 Martin Place offices in Sydney. But are these signals sufficient for change?
Webster says it’s important to differentiate between token programs and those that go all the way.
Enlightened CEOs get that the solution is actually integrated, she says.
“CEOs in the US are saying they require change from the top and calling it out as something that is unproductive for themselves and their organisations.”
In her view sleep is the third in the holy grail of wellness after nutrition and exercise.
“A few years ago companies started taking out the Coke and putting in fruit, so the first thing was nutrition, then exercise – they brought in things like exercise challenges and 10,000 steps – but sleep is integral to the success of these components.
“If you don’t sleep you reach for a sugary snack. If you don’t sleep you don’t exercise.
“Between 10 and 15 per cent of people have a sleep disorder so unless they get help they will suffer quality of life issues.”
So what’s a good sleep and what’s a good nap?
Webster says between seven and eight hours a night is ideal.
“We know for a fact that the ideal time for a nap is 10-20 minutes. Anything after that you go into deeper levels of sleep,” Webster says.
“If you nap for 10-20 minutes you get a bang of three hours energy boost from that nap. You wake up refreshed. Any longer and you wake up groggy.”
For more serious patterns, Webster says anyone can do one late nighter without much consequence; the ideal is to catch up the next night, when you might recoup one-third of your lost sleep. And you can even manage say four long days with less sleep if you take good care of yourself on the other three, but consistent sleep deprivation will catch up.
In the sleep pod arena chief executive of Welnis Nigel Hobbs told The Fifth Estate his company had installed more than 200 sleep pods in Australian company offices with prices ranging from a starting point of just under $4000 to the MetroNaps product at the upper end with all the bells and whistles offered at just under $18,000.
Hobbs said his company, established two years ago, currently had 10 staff and he expected it to grow on the back of rising demand for better health for office staff.
He said Arianna Huffington’s Sleep Revolution had kickstarted huge interest in the area.