Sleep is an essential function that allows our body and mind to recharge and to process what we have done in the day. It is fundamental to every aspect of our physical and mental health, allowing us to feel refreshed, alert, and function at our best.
However, many people do not get enough sleep or rest. This is especially true in work environments that can be physically, mentally and emotionally challenging. Stressful days, long shifts without enough breaks, and night shifts that go against the body clock can often lead to sleep deprivation and fatigue.
Not getting enough sleep or rest can have significant consequences for both individuals and organisations. In this blog post, we will explore why sleep is important for workplace wellbeing and what employers and employees can do to improve their sleep quality and quantity.
The benefits of sleep for workplace wellbeing
Sleep has many benefits for workplace wellbeing, such as:
- Improving work performance: Sleep makes us less sleepy and more alert. It also enhances our cognitive abilities, such as memory, attention, decision-making, problem-solving, creativity and learning. These skills are essential for productive work and are crucial in high-intensity working environments.
- Reducing stress and enhancing mood: Sleep helps us regulate our emotions and cope with stress. It also reduces the risk of developing mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. A good night’s sleep can make us more positive, resilient and empathetic towards ourselves and others.
- Preventing chronic diseases: Sleep supports our immune system and helps us fight off infections. It also lowers the risk of developing chronic diseases such as obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. A healthy sleep pattern can help us maintain our physical health and prevent absenteeism and presenteeism.
- Promoting work-life balance: Sleep helps us balance our personal and professional lives by giving us the energy and motivation to pursue our hobbies, interests and relationships outside work. It also helps us recover from the demands of work and prepare for the next day.
The challenges of sleep for staff
Despite the benefits of sleep for workplace wellbeing, many workers face challenges in getting enough sleep or rest. Some of the common factors that can affect their sleep quality and quantity are:
- Shift work: Working night shifts or rotating shifts can disrupt the natural circadian rhythm of the body, which regulates the sleep-wake cycle. This can make it harder to fall asleep during the day or stay awake during the night. It can also affect the quality of sleep by reducing the amount of deep sleep that is essential for physical and mental restoration.
- Long hours: Working long hours without sufficient breaks can lead to fatigue and exhaustion. This can impair the ability to function effectively at work and increase the risk of errors, accidents and injuries. It can also reduce the time available for rest and recovery after work.
- High workload: Working in a high-pressure environment with high demands, high stakes and high consequences can cause stress and anxiety. This can affect the ability to fall asleep or stay asleep by triggering the fight-or-flight response of the body. It can also affect the quality of sleep by increasing the frequency of nightmares or disturbing dreams.
- Personal factors: There are also personal factors that can influence sleep quality and quantity, such as age, lifestyle habits, medical conditions, medication use, family responsibilities, social activities and environmental factors.
- Sleep hygiene: Building on the last point, poor personal sleep hygiene can also affect sleep quality. Having distractions, such as a phone or TV, in the bedroom can lead to poor sleep quality.
What employers can do to support sleep for workplace wellbeing
Employers have a duty of care to ensure the health and safety of their employees at work. They also have a business interest in promoting employee wellbeing as it can enhance performance. Therefore, employers should implement strategies aimed to improve sleep and reduce fatigue among their employees. Some of these strategies are:
- Designing shift schedules that minimise disruption to circadian rhythms: Employers should consult with their employees on their preferences and needs when creating shift schedules. They should avoid frequent changes in shift patterns or direction (for example, from night to day or vice versa). They should also ensure adequate rest periods between shifts and limit consecutive night shifts or long shifts.
- Providing facilities and resources that support rest during work: If appropriate, employers could consider providing facilities such as quiet rooms or nap pods where employees can take short naps during breaks or between shifts. They should also educate their employees on the benefits of napping and the best practices for napping.
- Promoting a culture of wellbeing that values sleep: Employers should communicate the importance of sleep for workplace wellbeing to their employees and managers. They should also recognise and reward good sleep habits and discourage unhealthy behaviours such as working overtime, skipping breaks or using caffeine or alcohol to cope with fatigue.
- Offering training and support on sleep hygiene and management: Employers should provide training and support to their employees on how to improve their sleep hygiene and management. This can include topics such as how to create a regular sleep routine, how to optimise the sleep environment, and how to avoid stimulants or distractions before bed, for example.
What employees can do to improve their sleep hygiene
Employees also have a responsibility to take care of their own health and wellbeing at work and at home. They can improve their sleep quality and quantity by following some of these tips:
- Stick to a regular sleep schedule: Employees should try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends or days off. This can help them establish a consistent circadian rhythm and make it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep. They should also avoid napping too close to bedtime or for too long as this can interfere with their night-time sleep.
- Create a comfortable and conducive sleep environment: Employees should make sure that their bedroom is dark, quiet, cool and comfortable. The priority is to create an environment that is primed for relaxation, rather than working or entertainment.
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol, nicotine or heavy meals before bed: Consuming anything that requires your body to put in a lot of effort to process isn’t conducive to restful sleep. They can also cause unpleasant side effects such as headaches, heartburn, dehydration or frequent urination.
- Engage in relaxing activities before bed: Reading a book, meditating, doing yoga, writing a journal – these are all great ways to unwind before bed. On the other hand, watching TV, checking emails and scrolling on a phone can all contribute to poor sleep quality.
- Seek help if they have any sleep problems: Employees should seek help from their GP if they suspect that they have any sleep problems. They should also seek support from their employer, manager, colleagues, family or friends if they need any assistance or accommodation for their sleep issues.
Sleep is important for workplace wellbeing as it affects every aspect of our health and performance. However, in an increasingly digital and fast-paced world, many workers face challenges in getting enough sleep. Employers and employees should work together to implement strategies that can improve sleep quality and quantity and promote a culture of wellbeing that values sleep.