Why looking after employees sleep health is good for business

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Last night I had a rare, but welcome, night of great sleep. I maxed out the full 8 hours and woke up feeling full of beans ready to kick start the day. I have probably achieved more in 4 hours this morning than I achieve in a whole day when I’m not properly rested.

The amount of sleep our nation gets has been in decline over a number of years, according to the NHS, 1 in 3 people suffer from Insomnia. There are a million reasons we’re all struggling to sleep, from technology and our inability to switch off, to the increasingly blurred lines between work and home life too.

It’s those increasingly blurred lines that have got the attention of the Government and with research by RAND Europe revealing that the cost of lost sleep to the UK is estimated at £40 billion a year, they are encouraging businesses to take more notice.

Whether or not the problem causing the lack of sleep comes from the workplace, the impact on an individuals ability to perform and the impact on the business remains the same. For employees to achieve their potential and make our businesses stronger, we need to understand that sleep is as important as good diet and exercise, and without enough of it, we simply do not do our best.  

Line managers play an important role. The impact of sleep deprivation often occurs over a long period of time, which means that employees often don’t notice they’re missing out. The first challenge is for line managers to learn to recognise the symptoms of sleep deprivation. Identified here by the Public Health England Sleep and Recovery Toolkit.

  • Decreased communication
  • Performance deterioration
  • Poor concentration/ easily distracted
  • Poor cognitive assimilation and memory
  • Poor mood/ inappropriate behaviour
  • Greater risk-taking behaviour
  • Inability to make necessary adjustments
  • Increased intake of caffeine/ energy drinks
  • Increased sickness/ sickness absence.

The next step is to take action and consider if the time is right to review the organisations’ whole approach to health and wellbeing so that it includes sleep.  The advice and support of a specialist occupational health service such as Cordell Health can help as they will monitor and assess workers health, safety and performance across the whole company. They will also be able to suggest and help implement positive changes that will result in more engaged, healthy and productive employees.  This will help those already affected and importantly put preventative measures and cultural changes in place.

Starting the conversation about lack of sleep with employees can be challenging as it is such a personal issue and can be hard to discuss. The self-assessment tools at Sleepio and NHS Choices are a great first step to opening the lines of communication and offer some good advice.

There are 8 recommendations identified by Public Health England to help employees recuperate:

  • Help employees to understand the impact of excessive screen time on their mental wellbeing, work/life balance and sleep
  • Encourage them to have screen breaks including a break from social media and news channels throughout the day.
  • Hydration aids recovery, so make drinking water available throughout the workplace.
  • Encourage exposure to natural light, sunshine helps the body recover natural rhythms disrupted by poor sleep or lack of sleep.
  • Walking meetings, outside lunches and breaks from work that involves stepping out of the workplace can all be promoted.
  • Ensure staff have a quiet space away from their desks to eat lunch and consider providing spaces for staff to relax during the working day or night.
  • Break out spaces, sofa areas and relaxation pods are used by some employers to promote rest and recovery.
  • Ensure staff take their full holiday entitlement. Time off work is not ‘nice to have’ but an essential element of work/life balance.

As well as this, there are some brilliant apps that employees can be encouraged to download that will help them get a better understanding of their sleep patterns and the triggers involved. These will not only help promote self-care but can be followed up with an open door policy in the workplace and support with signposting to where employees can get help if they need it.

  • SleepBot uses a motion tracker in a smartphone to monitor movement and can keep track of sleep cycles and record sound levels. There are detailed tables that break down your sleep history by date etc. It also has a nice little section where you can make a note of your mood or something that disturbed you (noise or a thought) in the night. 
  • The iMoodJournal tracks mood, sleep, medication and energy levels through the phone.
  • There is a sleep tracker within the clock function of the iPhone (ios10) that can monitor how you sleep as well as be set to remind you when it’s time to go to bed and gently wake you at the optimum time in the morning.
  • Fitbit can monitor sleep as well as encourage fitness. It provides easy to read graphics that show sleep cycles and restless period through the night.

Hopefully, this will help you to think about the importance of reviewing employees sleep health and wellbeing in your workplace. Have you noticed any of the warning signs of in your team? How do you think you will approach it with them?