Battling society's sleep gap

Like eating five servings of vegetables a day, getting enough sleep is one of those lofty goals many of us aspire to but few reach. “The reality is we have too much to do,” says Mark Rosekind. “We’re always shedding tasks, and one of the things we get rid of is sleep.” As part of the Penn Humanities Forum on Sleep and Dreams, Rosekind will visit campus Nov. 3 to tell us why we need to make sleep more of a priority and what to do when we inevitably fail to do that.

A former NASA scientist, Rosekind now heads Alertness Solutions, a Cupertino, Calif. consulting firm that helps clients such as JetBlue Airways and Hilton Hotels combat fatigue in the workplace.

According to Rosekind, we don’t take sleep loss seriously enough. “As a society,” he says, “we’ve paid big time.” As well as the very real risks, such as accidents on the road, being sleep deprived affects performance, productivity, mood and quality of life. The sad part, says Rosekind, is that we’ve accepted it as a condition of modern life over which we have no control.

“If it was as simple as telling people to get eight hours of sleep a night, that’s all we’d need to do,” says Rosekind. But given the reality that most of us won’t get those eight hours, Rosekind offers a roster of fatigue fighting techniques. Some are as simple as pursuing good sleep habits. Others, like taking strategic naps when drowsiness threatens, may be harder to implement—especially on the job.

“In our society,” says Rosekind, “if you talk about taking a nap it means you’re stupid, lazy or dumb.” To prove the value of napping, Rosekind collaborated with colleagues at Penn on a study where pilots were allowed to take naps in the cockpit during international flights. Even nap advocate Rosekind was surprised by the dramatic results, which showed a 34% improvement in performance.

Now, when corporate executives ask the sleep guru if they should let their employees nod off on the job, Rosekind replies: “Can you think of any other strategy that can increase productivity like that?”

Mark Rosekind will speak on Nov. 3 at 5 pm at 17 Logan Hall. For more information, go to humanities.sas.upenn.edu/04-05/event_rosekind.html.

Originally published on October 21, 2004