We often focus on the importance of a healthy diet and regular exercise for improved physical and mental wellbeing, while overlooking the essential function that is sleep.
Bupa (2021) outline the following key benefits of a good night’s sleep.
Improved attention, focus and concentration.
Better memory and information processing.
Lower risk of high-blood pressure, diabetes, coronary heart disease and stroke.
Reduced stress levels, improved mood and boosted psychological (mental and emotional) wellbeing.
Aids maintenance of a healthy weight.
Difficulties getting a good night’s sleep
The NHS asserts that, on average, an adult needs seven to nine hours’ sleep per night.
However, millions of people experience difficulties sleeping or class themselves as an insomniac (estimates of prevalence vary from 5 to 50%, depending on the definition used (NICE, 2022)). The likely causes include:
Stress, anxiety and/or depression
Light, including bright and blue-light from screens before bedtime
We outline our top tips for improving sleep quality and quantity.
Establish a regular sleep routine; go to bed and wake up at a similar time each day.
Create a sleep-inducing environment; including darkness, quiet, a cool temperature and comfortable bed (avoid working in the same room as you sleep).
Exercise regularly, but avoid vigorous exercise up to four hours before bedtime.
Avoid stimulants before bedtime, including screen-time, large meals, caffeine, alcohol and nicotine.
Actively try to relax (using sleep apps, meditation, breathing exercises, reading, taking a bath etc.) an hour before bedtime and instead of forcing sleep by lying in bed awake.
Manage worries and overthinking at night by writing thoughts down, ideally before bedtime.
Seek medical help if needed – consult a pharmacist about sleep aids or your GP about chronic sleep issues.
Impact lack of sleep has on work
The likely work-related costs of poor quality and/or quantity of sleep include the following.
Difficulty concentrating, focusing, retaining information and making decisions.
Reduced productivity and efficiency.
Tiredness, lethargy and slow reaction times.
Grumpy and/or irritable mood (leading to work relationships suffering).
Increased susceptibility to illness, stress, heart issues and accidents while driving (resulting in time off work).
Sleep deprivation is, therefore, likely to come at a high cost for the individual, their employer and even their work colleagues. Rand Europe (2016) estimated that poor sleeping habits cost the UK economy up to £40 billion each year. This makes it imperative for employers to invest in their employees’ sleep, as part of their general wellbeing.
Tips to support your employees’ sleep hygiene
With this in mind, we have compiled the following recommendations for health, safety and wellbeing teams to implement, with the aim of ensuring employees get a good night’s sleep and perform optimally at work.
Offer access to sleep training, to help individuals’ build better sleep habits (see our earlier tips).
Offer access to digital sleep aids (i.e. apps and subscriptions) for those who benefit from guided meditations, sleep-inducing stories and/or relaxing sounds.
Help reduce work-related stress through clear communication, supportive management styles, achievable targets, regular wellbeing breaks, allowing compressed work weeks (where appropriate), as well as access to emotional and mental health support where necessary (e.g. counselling services, Occupational Health and mindfulness coaching).
Provide natural light in physical workspaces, or encourage employees to walk outside during breaks or phone calls, as natural light helps set the body’s internal ‘clock’ (circadian rhythm) so that it knows when to stay awake and when to sleep.
Promote the benefits of regular screen breaks at work (which will also improve eye health) and avoiding screen use immediately before bedtime (including discouraging staff from responding to emails after hours).
Inspire employees to be physically active, for example by offering them reduced fitness memberships, steps counters, activity/exercise-related competitions.
Encourage taking annual leave spread out throughout the year.
Allow flexible working times, to help employee’s manage their sleep patterns/preferences, caring responsibilities, any health issues they may have and match their work routine to suit when they are most alert (morning lark versus night owl).
Review employee shift patterns to reduce the negative impact that shift work and night work has on the body’s circadian rhythm. For example, maintain regular shift patterns, minimise night work, avoid high volumes of consecutive night shifts, avoid frequently rotating day and night shifts, rotate from morning to afternoon to night shifts (followed by adequate rest days), avoid shifts starting too early in the morning.
Whether you’re worried about your own sleep, or looking at the wider picture for general employee wellbeing, we encourage you to review our tips and identify what you can do to improve productivity, health and general wellbeing.
If you need any assistance with employee wellbeing, health & safety or ergonomics, we are here to help!