Are your employees getting enough sleep?
Sleep deprivation is now estimated to cost the UK economy £37bn a year, with employees who get less than six hours’ sleep a night generating twice as much absenteeism and presenteeism as their well-rested colleagues.
Despite the fact that just 3 per cent of people have the very rare gene that enables them to get by on less than six hours of sleep a night, research from The Great British Bedtime Report shows that three-quarters (74 per cent) of Brits are sleeping for less than seven hours a night, with more than one in 10 people (12 per cent) getting less than five hours.
Given that most adults need between seven and nine hours’ sleep a night if they want to wake up feeling refreshed with enough energy to last the day, the extent to which most people are now depriving themselves of sleep means that many employees will be struggling to function at their best.
The short-term implications of sleep deprivation include impaired mood, reduced mental sharpness and decreased ability to handle stress and make decisions, while the longer-term implications include weight gain, memory problems, weakened immunity and increased risk of depression, stroke, diabetes, heart problems and even Alzheimer’s disease.
With this is mind, here are three ways that employers can motivate their staff to get more sleep and improve their wellbeing:
Encourage employees to ask themselves if they’re waking up refreshed and energised, or if they’re just getting enough sleep to get by.
If they have to hit the snooze button in the morning, fall asleep during their commute, feel sleepy in meetings, sluggish in the afternoons or struggle to stay awake watching TV in the evenings, then they’re sleep-deprived.
Consider running a wellbeing initiative that challenges them to move their bedtime forward, until they can establish for themselves how much sleep they need to feel energised and function well.
Make it personal
Even when we know how much sleep we need, many of us end up shortchanging ourselves because of demands on our time, the addictive nature of box sets or the impact of looking at a range of screens just before bed.
To give employees a personal motivation to overcome the urge to stay up late, encourage them to think about what more rest will do for them. Do they want to reduce the health risks associated with sleep deprivation? Avoid an afternoon slump? Feel more emotionally balanced? Or just have enough energy left to exercise or socialise in the evening?
If they want to lose weight, they might be interested to know that sleep deprivation increases the hormone associated with appetite, so the less sleep they get, the more they’ll want to eat.
Cater to individual needs
If worries are keeping employees awake at night, remind them of any counselling or other support services available through your employee assistance programme, HR or your occupational health department, and promote the benefits of keeping a gratitude journal. Writing down three reasons to be grateful at the end of each day has been proven to be highly effective at alleviating feelings of anxiety or stress.
If new parents are having disrupted nights, can they work more flexibly for a while? Similarly, if night owls are struggling to sleep when they naturally feel more energised, can they shift their working hours to start a little later?
With a Nobel Prize recently awarded for further research into the importance of our circadian rhythms, which help regulate the times we feel awake and sleepy, future workplaces might have to find ways of allowing individuals to respect their natural cycles to get the best out of everyone.
Karen Matovu is head of mental health training at Validium