Sleep. A basic need, yet a huge area of neglect in so many lives. Many of us are not prioritising sleep, but putting everything else first: work deadlines, socialising, household chores, are all being chosen over a key factor that enables us to do these things to our best ability. But do people really understand how important sleep is and how it directly affects other areas of our health? And do organisations understand that they, too, should be aware of the importance of good sleep hygiene for their employees?
In today’s hyper connected world with many of us contactable 24/7 this, sadly, results in a good night’s sleep being compromised. According to Public Health England, the annual cost of lost sleep in the U.K. is around £30 billion. That’s 200,000 working days lost per year. Adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep a night and if we are getting less than that, then we are exposing ourselves to health risks.
“Adults who sleep fewer than 6 hours a night have a 13% higher mortality risk than adults who sleep at least 7 hours.”
Dr Justin Varney, 30 January 2018
What happens when we don’t sleep enough?
Matt Walker, sleep expert and author explains in his book, Why We Sleep, how sleep deprivation increases many serious health risks. “Sleep is one of the most important aspects of our life, health and longevity and yet it is increasingly neglected in 21st century society with devastating consequences: every major disease in the developed world – Alzheimer’s, cancer, obesity, diabetes – has very strong causal links to deficient sleep.”
Our mental and physical health is negatively affected by loss of sleep and not just that, it affects our safety, too. In her article for Actionable, Ronni Hendel-Giller compares sleep deprivation and alcohol consumption. “After roughly 17 – 19 hours of being awake, your performance on a set of tasks is like that of a person with a blood alcohol level of 0.05%. At 20 hours, it’s equal to a 0.1% blood alcohol level – which meets the legal definition of drunk in the United States”.
When we sleep well we are more likely to be positive and helpful, rather than irritable and grumpy, therefore improving our mental health. We are more likely to make good food choices and engage in physical activity, therefore improving our physical health. Sleep is perhaps the key component in our overall wellbeing and, based on the above, it’s clear that there is an important relationship between sleep and workplace wellbeing.
Sleep, performance and workplace wellbeing
On a professional level, poor quality sleep has an impact on brain function, performance, concentration and productivity during the day. In the workplace it can negatively affect employee motivation, engagement and stress levels. The risk of accidents increases when fatigued, as does poor decision making and reduced creativity.
So a good night’s sleep benefits not only employee welfare but also the health of the organisation. Addressing sleep habits can increase wellbeing in the workplace, which will have a positive knock on effect on the company and its culture.
In a fascinating Tedx talk by Chris Barnes on Sleep and Work, he reveals how sleep deprivation studies have shown that participants not only became less creative and less innovative but also more unethical. Business leaders are also less charismatic when they are lacking quality sleep – and charisma is a trait workers look for in managers and senior leaders.
So what can companies do to improve the sleeping habits of their employees and therefore boost productivity, engagement and motivation?
- Lead by example – good leaders get adequate sleep. Tony Schwartz, founder of The Energy Project states: “There is no single behavioural change we’ve seen in our work with thousands of executives that more quickly and powerfully influences mood, focus and productivity than a full night’s sleep.”
- Following on, leaders that send e-mails at 2am are telling their workforce that it’s okay to be working late into the night and this encourages late working patterns across the board. This must be avoided.
- Educate your employees on good sleep hygiene and provide some basic and easy to follow tips in the staff room or in a newsletter on how to aid better sleep.
- Taking that up a level, bring in specialists to deliver sleep workshops to make staff aware of the relationship between sleep and workplace wellbeing. Companies such as Shleep offer a sleep coaching package.
- Provide a quiet space in the office where people can relax away from their desks.
- If space allows, introduce sleep pods so your employees can nap if they need to recharge during the working day. Studies have shown brain function and problem solving increased after participants had a nap.
It’s clear that burning the candle at both ends is detrimental to our health and wellbeing. Good sleep hygiene encourages good physical and mental health. It encourages productivity and creativity, increasing a company’s financial health and wellbeing. So let’s heed the advice of an inspirational business leader of our time, Arianna Huffington: “The way to a more productive, more inspired, more joyful life is: getting enough sleep.”