In the workplace, the futile workplace, the Fre--ench sleep today
Surely this study will be the first step towards a mandate further reaffirming France's endless quest for mediocrity. I'm no expert on national attitudes regarding sleep, but I suspect that the emerging economies of China, India and the rest of the Asian Pacific Rim aren't concerned with ensuring that their employees fill their work hours with more sleep.
Clearly, the problem of sleepiness in the workplace is an important one. As a general rule, I prefer my airline pilot, my brain surgeon and my accountant to be well-rested. Add to that list, anyone involved in sewage treatment. On the more altruistic side, I'd also prefer that anyone working with things that are extremely sharp, hot or radioactive be equally well-rested.
It worries me that in a country not known for its phenomenal worker productivity, designated sleep time will not provide much of an enhancement to their economy. Knowing how the French generally do things, I sincerely doubt that the time allotted for required naps will be added to their already taxing 35-hour work weeks (or subtracted from their annual five to seven week vacations).
At what point do employees have to assume responsibility for their own health and welfare (which necessarily includes getting enough sleep)? Is it too much to expect workers to arrive at their work site well-rested?
In suggesting a need for the study of sleep and possible workplace napping, the French Ministry of Health points to a survey suggesting that 56% of their people report that a poor night's sleep has affected their work performance. Of course most of us can relate to this. I know that when I've slept poorly, I wish that the patient's whose care I'm involved with would simply disappear (as well as the medical residents I'm supposed to be teaching).
However, to me, the solution is to promote better nights of sleep rather than deal with the consequences after the fact. Instruct workers in better "sleep hygiene" and discourage late night carousing and other such nocturnal activities before a work day. I say send them home without pay if they show up too fatigued for work. Perhaps next time they'll have the foresight to leave the Folies Bergère a few hours earlier on weeknights.
The Ministry has published a Passeport pour le Sommiel (Passport to Sleep) document (for those of you who read French). In it they've made suggestions that may actually facilitate sleep. These are the things we generally recommend to all of our patients who have sleep disturbances i.e. avoid caffeinated products and refrain from exercise immediately before bedtime. One suggestion that I didn't see was avoiding alcohol (which alters the sleep-wake cycle). Could it be that the French don't want to make a policy recommendation that could curtail wine industry profits?
My point is that sleep is something that we all have to take responsibility for. Why burden our employers (or the government) with our inability to set aside personal time for sleep?
Looming larger among my concerns regarding sleep patterns and their impact on the legendary French work ethic is the fear that some "progressive" American legislator will come across this new approach and the next thing you know, we have the birth of an inalienable right to nap at the workplace...right alongside free speech, trial by jury and the writ of habeas corpus.
Frankly, I'm hoping that our politicians don't read the news.