Sleep is a biological necessity, we all need it, yet a according to The Sleep Council UK, 40% of people living in the UK suffer with sleep issues costing the UK economy approximately £40.2 billion due to people going to work with no sleep. The National Sleep Foundation guidelines advise that healthy adults should be having between 7-9 hours of sleep per night. For the most part, having the occasional bad night’s sleep will impact a persons concentration and productivity.

For those employees who are night after night having poor sleep, this can start to have an impact on their mental and physical well-being. We know that our ability to cope with everyday stresses is much more difficult when we are tired and there is a close link between depression and insomnia. Poor sleep can have a significant impact on job retention and performance as well as absenteeism.

There is a lot of information and access to resources in relation to exercise and healthy eating, however the same isn’t necessarily true regarding sleep. In fact, you could argue sleep is more important; unless we sleep well we do not have the energy to exercise and opt for unhealthier foods that we often mistakenly think will give us a quick boost in energy and are quick to access.

For all the aforementioned reasons it's surely advantageous for an employer to ensure their employees are well rested by promoting better sleep.

Why people are going to work with no sleep

There are many reasons why people in the work place do not sleep enough or suffer from poor quality, broken sleep. These include: inconsistent shift patterns and time zone work, number of hours worked, stress, difficult work relationships, financial concerns, illness, aged-related reasons, pregnancy, and the list goes on.

Did you know 40-60% of women are thought to have sleep problems related to hormonal changes brought on by the menopause, with as many as 30-40% of women suffering chronic insomnia by the time the menopause comes to an end.

As a paediatric sleep consultant, I see a lot of parents who are desperate to get their children sleeping better in order to be able to function at work. They worry that they will not be able to manage both being a parent and working. Often, they are faced with no other choice but to cease work. The prevalence of parent reported sleep problems have been estimated to range between 25-50% of preschool children, and 37 % of 4-10 year olds. Research by Richter (2019) shows that new parents lose a significant amount of sleep each night and may actually continue until the child is 6 years of age. So, what is sleep deprivation and what can employers do to support their employees.

What is sleep deprivation?

A lot of research has been carried out looking at the impact of poor or reduced sleep have on our bodies. Research has shown that even small reductions in sleep can have far reaching impacts on our health. There is a whole plethora of negative effects caused by a lack of sleep. Some of these are short term negative effects on things such as mood, concentration, emotional regulation, eating patterns and responses when driving.

Longer term effects include: possible weight gain, reduced immunity, relationship problems, and work related problems – such as risk taking behaviour, performance deterioration, increased absence, and poor concentration. Additionally, various health conditions such as increased risk of developing cardio vascular disease, and diabetes can develop or be made worse due to a lack of sleep.

How to sleep better – stop going to work with no sleep!

Given the extent to which sleep problems prevail in the working population, it is important for an organisation to support their employees by finding ways to address any sleep issues and support recovery in the workplace. This not only benefits the employee but also the organisation itself.

In the first instance, employers should try to understand what is causing the employee to have difficulties sleeping. There may be modifications within the workplace that could help resolve the sleep issues. Other ways to support the resolution of sleep issues amongst the workforce would be to provide education and guidance on sleep to employees. This could include information about sleep hygiene.

Sleep hygiene is basically a term used to describe good sleep habits. It incorporates both sleep habits and environment and can facilitate higher-quality sleep and thus better health. A person is said to employ “good” sleep hygiene when they have adjusted certain behaviours and environmental factors to facilitate a good night’s sleep.

Here are some sleep hygiene suggestions that may help improve an employee’s sleep:

  • Go to bed and get up roughly the same time every day, regardless of whether it is a weekend or weekday. If you need to work on changing your sleep times, do it gradually.
  • Turn off electronic devices at least 30-60 minutes before going to bed. The devices emit blue light which can inhibit the production of melatonin, a chemical that controls your sleep/wake cycle. Try not to put your phone next to your bed, as not only is it tempting to look it if you wake in the night, the light from it may wake you up, interrupting sleep.
  • Sleep when sleepy. If you are starting to fall asleep on the sofa whilst watching television, get yourself to bed. Try not to fight it as it could lead to overtiredness which often gives you a second wind, making it harder to fall asleep. Also, try not to go to bed before you are sleepy as you want to avoid spending too much time awake in bed.
  • Avoid caffeine and nicotine at least four to six hours before going to bed (I would actually say if caffeine does effect you or you are having broken sleep then you probably want to keep caffeine intake to before noon).
  • Avoid alcohol for four to six hours before bed. It can lead to broken/fragmented sleep
  • No napping in the day however if you do need to nap then make sure it’s before 3pm and keep it short.
  • Have a bath one to two hours before bed as it will raise your body temperature causing you to feel sleepy as your body temperature drops again.
  • If you can't sleep, leave the room. If after 20 minutes you can’t get to sleep or back to sleep, get up and do something mundane in a dim lit room until you feel sleepy again. Do not make a hot drink or do anything stimulating.
  • Avoid clock watching when you wake in the night as it will reinforce negative thoughts such as “I have only been asleep for three hours, this is awful”
  •  Getting regular exercise is great but try not to do strenuous exercise in the four hours before bedtime.
  • Environment – ensure your room is dark, quiet and cool. For most people, the optimal room temperature is between 16-20 degrees Celsius.
  • Bed is for sleeping. Try not to use your bed for anything other than sleeping and sex. This helps to strengthen your brain's association between your bed and sleep.

To conclude, trying to work when sleep deprived can significantly impact job performance and productivity. Sleep deprivation can take its toll both mentally and physically. Not only this, it has a huge economic impact on organisations due to reductions in productivity, health care costs, accidents at work, absenteeism, to name a few. Employers need to start taking a proactive approach when it comes to sleep. Organisations would benefit from promoting healthy sleep habits amongst their employees, supporting them to sleep better.

If you would like more information about the services offered by Mini Sleepers, baby and toddler sleep consultancy, then please get in touch via our Bloss page.

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