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The Importance of Sleep and its Impact on Your Employees

falling asleep at work

During these challenging times many businesses will be operating different working patterns, whether due to increased production to meet demand, re-arranging shift patterns to help isolate and protect workers or pivoting their business to operate in new markets.

Whilst focus on the day to day operation is critical at this time, it’s important not to forget the longer-term impact of changing working practices on the health and well-being of employees who will also be facing substantial pressures outside of work too.

One of the biggest factors affecting wellbeing is sleep.  The additional pressures on employees as they adapt to different working patterns and cope with other external pressures, means that many of them will not be getting sufficient sleep which will have a detrimental impact on them.

In this blog post we look at the impact of sleep on the workforce and how Fatigue Management as part of your Occupational Health support to your employees can have a positive impact.

7 Hours Sleep a Night Can Make a Big Difference

Sleep is increasingly on the radar of businesses as the benefits of well-rested staff are becoming truly apparent with studies proving that those that get more sleep i.e. at least 7 hours a night, are more productive, more alert, make fewer errors, less likely to be absent, are healthier and more engaged at work.

As workplaces deal with Covid-19 it might also be interesting to learn that a study published in the journal Sleep in September 2015 led by researchers at the University of California found that people who sleep six or fewer hours a night are 4 times more likely to catch a cold, when exposed to the virus, compared to those who sleep seven or more hours a night. The researchers added that “sleep was more important than any other factor in predicting subjects’ likelihood of catching a cold”.

Corporate culture is starting to shift in line with the research, as business leaders and managers realise that lack of sleep does affect the safety and productivity of the workforce.

We spoke to Marcus de Guingand, Managing Director of 3rd Pillar of Health, to understand what a difference discussing and training about sleep has made to numerous businesses over the years.

1. What types of business have used your services?

We work with a wide range of businesses across multiple industries. From household multi-national names to much smaller organisations. It’s very rare we can’t find a programme that suits the aims and objectives (and importantly budget) of potential customers.

It helps that we’ve also worked with staff working many different job roles, from builders working with tools on construction sites, shift workers to senior knowledge economy workers. Sleep deprivation is so widespread across society that the US Centres for Disease Control have classed it as a public health epidemic. So, no organisation or group of staff are unaffected.

2. Have you seen a shift in attitudes and culture towards the issue of sleep in the workplace?

Yes. There was often a slightly “macho” attitude to sleep. Some people still mistakenly think they can achieve more by sacrificing sleep. However, this has been comprehensively debunked in recent times. As work hours start to exceed 50 hours a week productivity starts to decline at increasing rates. Sleep is a young science, but research is increasingly finding that sleep affects every aspect of our physical and mental health as well as alertness and cognition. Sleep is in the press much more now and this is leading to a change in attitudes.

3. How do employees react to being assessed or discussing sleep within a group setting?

We’ve worked with leading sleep research scientists to put together our online sleep health self-assessment and we’ve had well over 6,000 responses. Individual responses are (and will always remain) confidential. When we make this very clear the responses, we get tend to be pretty honest. With greater awareness around sleep, group sessions tend to be more interactive now. However, basic knowledge on sleep is still not great and we still need to bust a lot of myths and old wives’ tales. We generally stay behind at the end of a session for those that have more private questions to ask about their own sleep.

4. Have you seen measurable results from your training programmes?

Yes. Feedback from sessions we’ve run face-to-face tends to run around 94% approval. We give staff the knowledge they need to make informed decisions. It’s often just small changes that can yield big results. For me it was cutting out caffeine from 2pm. It now takes me 20 minutes to fall asleep at night, down from 60 minutes. So, one small change and an extra 40 minutes of sleep every night for the rest of my night.

We also ran a sleep improvement programme for East Cheshire NHS where we combined the assessments and education. We saw improvement across all key sleep metrics and absence days in the participating group fell by 40% during the 6-month programme. You can read the case study here:

5. What advice would you have for individuals who are not getting 6 hours a night?

You really should be aiming for 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep a night. It’s critical to all aspects of our health, our safety and our productivity. I often hear tales of how people think they can function on 6 or fewer hours a night. The problem is that we cannot. We reach a “new normal” level of functioning and we forget how much more productive we were when we were well-rested. Long term short sleep eventually catches up with us.

Research suggests that sleep may play a role in the onset of dementia. It would appear to be the case with Margaret Thatcher – a famously short sleeper. It’s different in those with more serious sleeping problems, like insomnia. Sleep becomes an obsession and that is counterproductive. The best sleepers rarely think about their sleep. One or two nights of poor sleep aren’t going to have any great long-term effect – so don’t worry about brief periods of poor sleep. You’ll get over it and return to normal. If you check your tracker to see how much deep sleep you get – turn it off. The number is inaccurate and you’re potentially creating problems for yourself. It’s now called Orthosomnia.

6. What advice do you have for Managers worried about their staff and the amount of sleep they are getting?

Your team will be much more high-functioning and cohesive if they’re well-rested. There is a bi-directional relationship between sleep and mental health and stress. When tired we lose our coping mechanisms. We’re more irritable and our professional and personal relationships become strained. Not to mention we are much less productive, significantly less safe, less creative and more likely to be off sick. Research has even shown an increase in “deviant” behaviours in a work environment when sleep deprived. It’s often difficult to know where to start with sleep.

Explore the Topic of Sleep and Fatigue with Your Team

Sleep is just one of the areas of occupational health within the workplace that our team can provide support on. We can offer online options covering sleep and wellbeing, meaning you can still tackle this important component of wellbeing while staff are away from the workplace.

If you would be interested in finding out more about the issues of sleep, fatigue, wellbeing or any other occupational health issues within your workplace, please call the team on 01666 503686 or fill out our contact form.