Should you have become alarmed by Apple’s failure this week?

Should you have become alarmed by Apple’s failure this week? 1

Millions of people did not wake up for work this week because Apple failed to make the alarm on their iPhones work correctly. This is not good news for the company, which reported a record fall in sales this week for the past year.

I am fond of telling people that, one day, Apple will cease to exist. Nothing lasts forever. Eventually, this company will be consigned to history. It is inevitable. I am also delighted to tell all those iPhone fanatics that this day may come sooner than they think. Basic technical errors on an alarm system combined with a dramatic slump in sales merely add weight to my case.

However, I wonder if the problems could be related to the boss’s sleep patterns, which might encourage Apple employees to be like him. Tim Cook famously sets his alarm for waking up early to start work at 4 a.m. You’ll find plenty of advice online suggesting that you, too, should get up early and get to work. These articles cite examples of successful people who get up early and conclude that their success “must be” because they are early risers. 

Personally, I prefer to rely on science rather than anecdotes. Five years ago, research from the University of Exeter looked at the genetics of sleep among 700,000 individuals. There are better odds that this study will reveal more factual information than a blog post citing half a dozen high-profile individuals and their quirky sleep patterns. The research shows that there are 351 genes controlling sleep; it’s a complex array of different instructions. Importantly, this major study also showed that some previous ideas about sleep are incorrect. For example, it has long been thought that sleeping late increases your chances of certain diseases, such as diabetes. However, the study of 700,000 individuals found no causal link. So don’t set your alarm clock early to avoid disease.

However, if you wake up naturally, you could have missed the start of the working day, as so many people did, thanks to the Apple error this week. More of us have circadian rhythms that do not align with the 9 to 5 working day, so our body clocks do not align with what is expected of us in the workplace. 

I was discussing this issue with students earlier in the week. They hoped they would not have any 9.00 a.m. lectures in their timetable next term. I told them they probably would, leading to a discussion about the best time to start the day. They wanted the study day to begin at 11.00 a.m. I agreed with them that this was a good idea, but it was not practical given the standard working day for university staff. 

Several research studies have shown that starting the working day at 9.00 am is not good. One study revealed that an early start is not compensated by going to bed early. The result is that millions of workers are less productive because they are sleep-deprived. Similar research has found that school students get better results when they start later in the day.

The Apple alarm problem should have triggered some thinking about the traditions we have in the workplace. The 9 to 5 is not a scientific fact. It is a choice made hundreds of years ago and has remained unchallenged by most organisations. You and your workforce will perform better if the day starts later. I know someone will comment on this with something like, “But I do my best work in the morning when there are no interruptions”. Except that can be an illusion. Just because we think we are more productive does not mean we are. The people who start early are frequently sleep deprived as they do not adjust their going to bedtime.

Luckily, researchers from France, Hungary, the USA, and the UK have published a recent review of sleep and work. It reveals an effective way of dealing with the modern world’s multiple pressures that lead to deprived sleep: taking a nap. If you don’t sleep but just doze for up to 30 minutes, you’ll feel much better and be more productive. Plus, if you are not sleeping but only napping, you will not need to rely on that broken iPhone alarm to wake you up. 

This week’s failure of people to turn up on time will have focused many managers on criticising individuals for not having alternative alarms. Or they will say, “I never have that problem with an Android phone”. But will they say that the tardiness of some employees should trigger a conversation about when the working day should begin or whether beds should be provided for the occasional nap? I doubt this discussion will happen in many businesses. But if it did, they would almost certainly notice increased productivity.

So, is it time to review your working day? If you want to think about that later, please use something other than an Apple iPhone alarm to remind you—because it won’t…! It’s inferior technology.

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