Are your employees getting enough sleep?

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Sleep deprivation and mental health

Sleep is very much an essential part of maintaining good health and is about as important to our bodies as the food we eat to the air we breathe. 

Sleep problems cost the UK upwards of £40 billion annually and account for around 200,000 lost working days per year. Up to 1/3 of the UK population suffer from sleep problems sleep deprived employees not only pose a health and safety risk for some types of work, they are more likely to have impaired performance, lower motivation, difficulty concentrating, be irritable or anxious and absent from work. 

Sleep issues can be caused by a wide range of reasons including genetic factors, stressful events, physical health, medications, work demands and mental health. The relationship between sleep and health are strongly related with poor sleep, causing poor health and poor health making it harder to sleep. 

The impact of COVID-19 on sleep issues has been widely reported and a poll by Kings College London found that over half of the UK slept worse during lockdown than they had done previously. This figure rose to 62% for those who were also faced with financial difficulties as a result of the pandemic. 

The ‘always on culture’ which has come into sharper focus following the pandemic, with some employees clocking in an extra 2.5 hours a day on average. 44% of UK employees reporting that they have been expected to do more work over the last year and 74% have suffered fatigue, stress or burnout during the pandemic. This blurring between home and work life has also caused employees to take shorter breaks and continue to work through sickness. 

Sleep deprivation is linked to a number of physical health issues including:

  • Increased risk for obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Strokes
  • Heart disease
  • Cancer 
  • Even early death

Sleep problems, such as a lack of sleep or seriously disrupted sleep, are closely related to our mental health. In fact, 92% of adults that have depression also report that they have difficulty with their sleep. For some, sleep issues may arise before they develop into mental health problems where chronic sleep problems increase the risk of developing more serious mental health conditions. 

Sleep and work

Sleep is of particular challenge where employees are shift based or in safety critical industries such as engineering and construction, where a lack of sleep can have dangerous consequences. However, as poor sleep impairs our ability to think clearly and our ability to perform daily tasks drops dramatically, there is a high risk that more mistakes will be made, which can have potentially damaging consequences irrespective of the industry. 

A study by Hult International Business School, revealed that those professionals surveyed averaged around 30 minutes below the recommended range of 7-8 hours sleep per night. Those who were not getting enough sleep reported poorer work performance with over half reporting that they struggled to stay focused, took longer to complete tasks and found it difficult to come up with creative ideas. 

Sleep can also impact our relationships at work. Employees with disrupted sleep are very vulnerable to stress, which means when they are in stressful work situations, reactions can be intensified leading to relationship conflicts. Relationships and the ability to work well with others at work is critical to overall performance.

Employers should be aware that sleep problems are common amongst employees (affected around 1/3 of all employees) and with the rise in anxiety and stress as a result of the pandemic, this is likely to worsen. The risk to business of poor sleep is huge and it is important that employers tackle sleep issues as part of their overall wellbeing strategy and view sleep as fundamental to work performance as nutrition and exercise.

How can employers support employees to sleep better?

1. Create a positive sleep culture and include sleep as part of a wellbeing strategy. A good place to start is to bring the discussion of sleep out into the open, educate managers and senior leaders on the importance of sleep for their teams and the need to minimise any signs of an ‘always on’ culture.

2. Increase communications with employees to remind them to take proper breaks in the day and limit screen time to increase feelings of alertness and to improve their motivation.

3. Set an example of a work/life balance by encouraging managers to switch off from work and avoid attending to emails late into the evening or at weekends. If emails do need to be sent out of hours, include a note in the email to say that an immediate response is not expected. This will encourage your employees to do the same. 

4. Provide employees with sleep education to increase awareness of sleep deprivation and the potential impacts on overall health. 

5. Take a proactive approach and encourage employees to seek help early if they are suffering from sleep problems.

6. Set clear expectationsregarding working hours to enable employees to draw a boundary between their work and home life. 

7. Encourage employees to get access to light, especially in the mornings. 

8. Encourage employees to exercise regularly as this can reduce the risks associated with sedentary lifestyles and can also help with natural sleepiness towards the end of the day. 

Find out more

If you want to find out more about looking after your employee wellbeing or want to review your current employee benefits to ensure that they remain fit for purpose and relevant for the new world of work, please get in touch with a member of our specialist team by calling 0204 502 9377 or request a call back.

New to employee benefits?

Looking to review or to introduce an employee benefits programme? Use our jargon-free guide for small and medium-sized businesses as your starting point.

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