As we approach the end of World Well Being At Work Week 2023, which aims to ‘collectively shine a light on the right path towards fostering well being in our workplaces’1, we reflect on the importance of sleep for our general health and well being, and how it can have a huge impact on an employee and their employer.
Sleep is complex and scientists are understanding more and more about it. It isn’t just a case that if we sleep longer we’ll feel better; there’s a recommended optimum sleep duration and the type of sleep is important. For example, adults under 60 are recommended to have 7 or more hours of sleep, but when you get to 60 it’s recommended that you sleep for 7 hours and no more than 9 hours.2 For an excellent explanation of the anatomy of sleep and its stages take a look at Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep.
When it comes to a lack of sleep at work the impacts can be significant; a lack of performance and concentration, loss of memory, errors are more likely, slower reaction times, increased stress levels, conflicts with colleagues and a higher likelihood of accidents. When we’re tired we have heightened emotional reactions to stressful and difficult situations. The outcomes of which, for example falling out with a close colleague, can cause further reasons for sleeping badly.
Our health will also suffer with a higher risk of high blood pressure, obesity, heart attack and a mental health illness, such as depression. The NIH say that “quality sleep, and getting enough of it at the right times, is as essential to survival as food and water”3.
The impact of fatigue to employers in the US due to reductions in productivity and motivation, and health care costs, is estimated to be $136.4 billion dollars a year. In the UK it is estimated that sleep deprivation may cost the UK economy £37 billion a year, with fatigue related injuries costing UK businesses up to £240 million a year4. As the Health and Safety Executive say “A well-rested employee is happier, safer and more productive, so it’s in everyone’s best interest to ensure that your workers are getting enough sleep”.5
Employers can take a number of steps to reduce fatigue in the workplace, including:
- Encouraging rest
Provide frequent breaks and opportunities for rest within shifts, educating employees on the importance of sleep, and encouraging employees to use their paid time off.
- Promoting a healthy work-life balance: Discourage overtime and on-call work, encourage employees to take holidays, and provide flexible work arrangements.
- Creating a supportive work environment: foster a culture of open communication, providing access to employee assistance programs, and offering wellness programs.
- Optimising work schedules: avoid long and/or consecutive shifts, keeping schedules regular and predictable.
Employees can take steps to improve their sleep and avoid feeling tired at work:
Establish a regular sleep schedule
Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, even on weekends. This will help to regulate your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle.
Avoid napping during the day.
Napping can make it harder to fall asleep at night.
Create a relaxing bedtime routine
In the hour or two before bed, wind down by doing relaxing activities such as reading, taking a bath, or listening to calming music. Avoid watching TV, working on the computer, or using your phone, as the blue light emitted from these devices can interfere with sleep.
Create a comfortable sleep environment.
Make sure your bed is comfortable and that your bedroom is at a comfortable temperature.Make sure your bedroom is dark, quiet, and cool. Darkness helps to trigger the release of melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleep. Noise and light can interfere with sleep, so make sure your bedroom is as dark and quiet as possible.
Avoid a heavy meal, caffeine and alcohol before bed
Eating a heavy meal before bed or drinking caffeine, which is a stimulant, can make it difficult to fall asleep. Alcohol may make you feel drowsy at first, but it can disrupt your sleep later in the night.
Get regular exercise
Regular exercise can help to improve sleep quality. However, avoid exercising too close to bedtime, as this can make it harder to fall asleep.
Stress can interfere with sleep, so try and find healthy ways to manage stress, such as exercise, yoga, or meditation.
Expose yourself to sunlight during the day.
Sunlight helps to regulate your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle.
See a doctor if you have trouble sleeping
If you’ve tried these tips and you’re still having trouble sleeping, see a doctor. There may be an underlying medical condition that is affecting your sleep.
Improving your sleep quality will mean you’ll feel more rested and alert at work.
Author: Carolyn Lewis
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