Understanding sleep and the impact on productivity at work.

01 July 2019

Sleep. Perhaps one of the most overlooked factors contributing to good health and wellbeing. We know it’s important that our employees eat well and lead an active lifestyle, but do we really understand the importance of them getting a good night’s sleep?

Although everyone's needs are different, recommendations from The National Sleep Foundation suggest that adults (26–64) should get between seven and nine hours of sleep each night. But in reality, we often fall short of achieving this. Commitments at home and worries about finances, loved ones or work can affect how well your employees sleep.

The importance of sleep

It's important that your employees get enough sleep and that this sleep is good quality. Without a good night’s sleep – or after poor sleep – your employees won’t be able to concentrate properly. They may make poorer decision and struggle to think flexibly and innovatively. A lack of sleep can also affect their physical and mental wellbeing, leading to sick days and an overall loss of productivity and revenue for your business. You may think that how well your employees sleep is a personal issue that employers shouldn’t concern themselves with. But, there are lots of entirely appropriate things you can do to help.

Workplace culture

First and foremost, open up the conversation. Employees might not be aware that they are sleep deprived, and of how this could affect both their wellbeing and their ability to do their job well. So, get talking and prompt your employees to ask themselves the following questions.

  • Am I feeling refreshed in the morning?
  • If not, why am I waking up unrefreshed from my night’s sleep?

Make sure that you engage with your employees to understand their barriers towards getting a good night’s sleep. Help them to overcome these if you can by making reasonable adjustments or providing further information and support where appropriate. This may include information on good ‘sleep hygiene’, which includes things like setting regular times to go to bed and wake up, along with creating a comfortable sleeping environment. You might also like to display information resources to help employees sleep well around your workplace, for example in staff rooms or other communal areas.

As an employer, you should also consider things like people’s travel time and don’t assume that this equates to down time. Think about how things like travel could affect your employees personal or family life and the knock-on effect this could have on their sleep. Work with your employees to accommodate their needs and agree on working patterns that suit you both.

Recognise when your employees need help

Be vigilant – as an employer know the causes of poor (or a lack of) sleep and learn how to spot when your employees might be struggling. Your employees may not be able to judge this for themselves as sleep deprivation often creeps up on people without them noticing. Things that may cause employees trouble sleeping include:

  • being pregnant or having children or dependents
  • a bereavement or loss of a loved one
  • financial or work stresses
  • having certain medical conditions like obstructive sleep apnoea or mental health problems like anxiety or depression
  • poor housing or living conditions
  • anti-social working patterns, like on-call hours, night shifts and shift work

Be aware of these factors and, where possible, make reasonable adjustments for employees to help them get a good night’s sleep. For example, if your employee is stressed and can’t sleep because they are overloaded with work, review their workload. Prioritise projects or tasks and reallocate work to other colleagues if appropriate.

And remember, poor sleep amongst your workforce isn’t something to be taken lightly. If you’re worried about an employee, or they have concerns about their own sleep and wellbeing, suggest they see their GP for further advice and support.

Recovery is key

Last but not least, help employees to recover. That’s right, we said it – recover. Just like recovering from a cold or operation, employees may also need to recover from poor sleep. To help your employees recuperate their energies, encourage them to use their annual leave as they are entitled and to take breaks throughout the day if, and when, needed. Provide breakout areas and encourage employees to stay well hydrated and go outside to take advantage of the natural light, for example at lunch.

You can also help your employees to get a good night sleep by following these six steps to a sound night’s sleep.


Six steps to a sound night's sleep PDF

If your employees are interested in actively relaxing before bed, they can try our guided body scan or progressive muscle relaxation practices.

Helping employees to protect their sleep and minimise fatigue can bring many benefits to your business. But just like any other hazard in the workplace, you also have a legal responsibility to make sure your employees and customers aren’t at risk due to poor sleep or fatigue. For more information about your legal responsibilities see this toolkit for employers or visit www.hse.gov.uk.

References:

  • National Sleep Foundation recommends new sleep times [Press release]. National Sleep Foundation. www.sleepfoundation.org, February 2015.
  • Sleep and recovery: a toolkit for employers. The Prince's Responsible Business Network in association with Public Health England. sleepcouncil.org.uk, published January 2018.
  • Maric A, Montvai E, Werth E et al. Insufficient sleep: Enhanced risk-seeking relates to low local sleep intensity. Ann Neurol. 2017; 82(3):409-18. doi: 10.1002/ana.25023
  • Leger D. Working with poor sleep. Sleep 2014; 37(9): 1401-03. doi: 10.5665/sleep.3978
  • Why sleep matters - the economic cost of insufficient sleep. RAND Corporation. www.rand.org, published 2016
  • Insomnia. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries. cks.nice.org.uk, last revised April 2015
  • Depressive sleep disturbance. Oxford Handbook of Psychiatry (3 ed. online). Oxford Medicine Online. oxfordmedicine.com, updated December 2015
  • Generalised anxiety disorder. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries. cks.nice.org.uk, last revised October 2017

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