The 7-Eleven store isn't the only place in Boynton Beach, Florida that's open all night. So is the human-resources department of Motorola's fast-paced manufacturing plant. Up in St. Cloud, Minnesota, Fingerhut (one of the world's largest direct marketers) offers a car-starting service for night-shift employees who encounter frozen car batteries when they knock off work. Down in Spring Hill, Tennessee, Saturn Corp. runs a 24-hour child-care facility. Meanwhile, at Sprint's call centers in Phoenix, Kansas City, and Jacksonville, Florida, employees have been known to do the funky chicken under spinning disco balls in the middle of the night — just to stay alert and energized.
This is your wake-up call: The night shift isn't just for power-plant operators and assembly-line workers anymore. It's also for software developers, Web producers, stockbrokers, and customer-service reps. The sun never sets on knowledge work. The new economy is open for business, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
"In a world that keeps running faster, the 24-hour day is a given," says Martin Moore-Ede, MD, sleep guru and the author of The Twenty-Four-Hour Society: Understanding Human Limits in a World That Never Stops (Addison-Wesley, 1993). Moore-Ede, 53, is also founder and president of Circadian Technologies Inc., a consulting firm that's worked with more than 300 organizations — including 3M, Monsanto, General Motors, and NASA — to help them figure out the best ways to work around the clock.
"Staffing a 24-hour, go-go culture is quite possible, but you need to be smart about how you do it," Moore-Ede says. Unfortunately, most companies aren't very smart. "They just add more people. That's the brute-force method for coping with the 24-hour society. Eventually, those people get run ragged, and they become less effective. Managing a nonstop work environment requires genuine effort and enormous discipline."
Working around the clock may help a company keep pace with the speed of the Internet and with the demands of the global marketplace. But it's at odds with the needs of the human body. There's no escaping this biological fact: The average adult needs 8 hours of sleep per night. During the week, however, the average adult gets less than 7 hours per night. The 24-hour society is also the sleep-deprived society.
Over time, sleep deprivation takes its toll. "You might be able to shovel coal or bend steel while your brain is operating at half capacity," says Moore-Ede. "But in an era when the power of your brain — creativity — counts more than the size of your forearms, 'half capacity' doesn't cut it. Creativity is the first thing to erode when you need sleep. The ability to be creative lies in the frontal areas of the brain, and those are the areas that are most sensitive to sleep deprivation."
So what's a drowsy knowledge worker to do? Moore-Ede doesn't believe that workloads have changed all that much over the years. What has changed are patterns of human behavior. "We've created enormously powerful tools that speed up transactions as well as the delivery of services and information. By eliminating time constraints, we've allowed ourselves to succumb to two of the most basic human weaknesses: impatience and procrastination. And a business can always make money when it finds a fundamental human weakness to exploit." Moore-Ede points to Federal Express as a good example. It's a company, he says, whose prosperity is built around human procrastination.
That critique notwithstanding, Moore-Ede recognizes that the 24-hour society is here to stay. One crucial survival strategy is to create what he calls a "time cocoon" — a zone of personal security in which you can control the pace of incoming information and the demands on your time. "Given that you can be reached anytime and anywhere, you have to be extra-careful with your time. You need to find times when you're not open for business. In a sense, you need to operate in your own personal time zone — to create a buffer between your schedule and the world."
Sound advice. So why do we still feel exhausted? "There is a craziness to the 24-by-7 world," admits Moore-Ede. "Just because it's possible doesn't mean that it's smart."
Contact Martin Moore-Ede by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or visit Circadian Technologies Inc. on the Web (www.circadian.com).
Sidebar: "You're Getting Sleepy ?"
Back in 1965, 17-year-old Randy Gardner set an eye-opening world record. He stayed awake for 264 hours — that's 11 full days. If Gardner's record is one you're not interested in breaking, you might benefit from Martin Moore-Ede's advice on how to sleep more soundly, which is culled from his book "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Getting a Good Night's Sleep" (Alpha Books, 1998).
1. Create a time-free sleep zone. Some people get stressed out simply by seeing time pass. So put your alarm clock in a dresser drawer. At the very least, turn it away from view.
2. Avoid (certain) stimulation. About an hour before you want to sleep, put away the mail, stop working, and free your mind of worries. If you need help, take a warm bath. A bath raises the body's temperature, and cooling down will help trigger sleep.
3. Sleep on it. Most mattresses have a life span of 10 to 12 years. If you've been sleeping on the same one for more than a decade, it could be time for a change. And don't underestimate the importance of your pillow. Your head accounts for 20% of your body weight and needs to be supported when you're lying down.
4. Stick to a plan. The body's internal clock is prone to disruption by unexpected change. That's why one of the most important things about your nighttime experience is creating a routine that works for you — and then sticking to it.
A version of this article appeared in the October 1999 issue of Fast Company magazine.