In Recessionary Times, Is Your Sleep Debt Going Up?

A couple of days ago, The Boss suggested that the morning edit meetings be held at 11 am, instead of at the stroke of noon.

By Sushmita Bose (Freewheeling)

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Published: Fri 9 Jan 2009, 10:04 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 12:53 AM

Till sometime back, the morning meeting was actually an afternoon one: everyone trooped in to the conference room at 1 pm. When the timing was revised to 12 noon, there were a few moans of protest (I tried not to moan too loudly). And now there was this pre-noon shocker. “All those who cannot make it on time, can send ideas on email,” The Boss added grimly, already visualising an almost empty conference room.

When I was working for a newspaper back in New Delhi, the morning meeting was held at noon. Almost no one turned up for it. Oh morning meetings are not really important anyways, people argued: the news line-up is only ready after the working day is over — in the evening. Strangely enough, there used to be a packed room when the meeting was postponed to 12.30. It was the half-an-hour edge. Bottom line: one could afford to sleep more (other than the given that journalists usually love maintaining unusual timings).

The corollary to all of the above is that I love sleeping. I sleep for more than 10 hours every day, and, no, I never feel shattered when I realise that I am ‘sleeping away’ a significant part of my precious life. In fact, to factor in days (nights actually) when I get short-changed on sleep, I maintain a sleep-bank account (although I have no idea about the state of my savings bank account) — so that I know exactly how many extra hours I have to sleep additionally for a perfect ‘sleep balance-sheet’ score.

And I love it when I read stuff like how an extra hour of sleep per night helps lower risk of coronary artery calcification (an early sign of heart disease). And I love it even more when crack doctors from the world’s best medical schools say things like “Sleep is like the money you have in the bank... If you make too many ‘withdrawals’ by not getting enough sleep and don’t make ‘deposits’ by making up that sleep, your ‘debt’ mounts. Eventually, you may suffer bigger and bigger health consequences.”

This week, I was gobsmacked when I came across the findings of a study on insomnia from Quebec, Canada. The study estimates the total annual costs of not being able to sleep in Quebec alone is $6.5 billion annually. Reduced productivity (an indirect cost) was setting back Quebec’s GDP by $5 billion as insomniacs (and it seems almost half the population suffers from some level of sleeping disorder) lose the equivalent of 27.6 days a year of work due to fatigue, and miss 4.4 days of work. The sleep-deprived were resorting to extremely foolish things like drinking alcohol in copious amounts in order to get a good night’s rest, ending up wasting hard-earned millions.

I also read somewhere that Americans, on an average, are now sleeping one hour less per night than they did a couple of decades ago, thanks to lifestyle changes (I am sure it’s the same story all over the world). Caffeine-spouting coffee chains are being blamed for the fact that the country is sleepier than ever before, and it’s no wonder chains like Starbucks are now evolving ‘wellness’ programmes and adding healthier options to its menu, so that customers don’t stay awake at nights (after caffeine shots).

In these days of corporate jargon, sleep management is now a buzzword — in line with sleep clinics, and sleep bank accounts that are being opened all over the world, and ‘thoughtful’ hotels busy reinventing themselves as “better sleep” harbingers.

One of the CEOs of an HR company — a good friend of mine — told me the other day that he’s now created a ‘den’ at the workplace. “Just in case anybody feels like a quick nap in the middle of the day,” he explained. “Sleep is good.” HR companies are usually the first to cotton on to corporate trends. Everyone is concerned that lack of sleep will translate into the nightmare of reduced productivity so, increasingly, you won’t have to feel guilty about gently dozing off in office.

When I was a kid, my father insisted that too much sleep is “bad”. He told me India’s then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi slept four hours in a day, and that I should try and be like her. Even on weekends, when there was no school, he’d wake me up at 6 am. I’ve never forgiven him for that. And I guess that is why I have accumulated such a huge sleep debt. I’m sleeping on it!

Sushmita Bose is KT’s Features Editor. Write to her at

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