Employee health and wellbeing – helping employees to get a better night’s sleep
Get yourself comfortable, settle down and, whatever you do, put that phone away. Next week (March 13) is World Sleep Day, and in an increasingly “always on” working world employers can play an important role in communicating “sleep hygiene” health and wellbeing advice to ensure we get a proper, refreshed night’s sleep.
Next week (March 13) is World Sleep Day run by the World Sleep Society and next month is National Stop Snoring Week (April 20-24), overseen by the British Snoring & Sleep Apnoea Association. Both are a great opportunity for employers to be communicating practical tips and advice to help employees get a better night’s sleep.
As many as one in three of us admits to suffering from insomnia or disrupted sleep patterns. And even if it’s not the only reason why we’re kept awake at night, our “always on” connected work and social world is increasingly a factor within this.
Indeed, a recent poll by the animal charity the Society for the Protection of Animals Abroad found that 30% of office workers admitted they checked their work emails throughout the night. A third also checked their emails as soon as they woke up.
It’s self-evident that fatigue and tiredness can be an important issue in safety-critical roles. But a lack of sleep or, more accurately a lack of good-quality sleep, is important for all of us from a health and wellbeing perspective.
The think-tank Rand Europe has estimated that poor sleeping habits cost the UK economy as much as £40bn a year, with tired employees being less productive and more likely to be absent from work. The UK loses some 200,000 working days a year because of insomnia and poor sleep, it has calculated.
Sleep deprivation is linked to a higher mortality risk, increased risk of diabetes, cardiovascular ill health and depression, among other conditions, especially among shift or night workers.
Yet question or impact of sleep – a lack of sleep or sleep deprivation – as an underlying issue can get overlooked in discussions about an employee who is, say, under-performing or has poor attendance or is frequently absent. This can often be because it is felt sleep is a “personal” issue, something employers should not be “interfering” in.
But, given the extent of poor sleep and sleeplessness out there, let alone full-blown insomnia or sleep apnoea, it may well be that employers are pushing at something of an open door if they include practical tips and advice around good sleep hygiene within their health and promotion activities, especially over the next couple of months.
Practical sleep tips, advice and toolkits
So, what might this practical advice entail?
There are no hard-and-fast answers, and individuals are likely to need to experiment to work out what works best for them in terms of developing a sustainable better sleep routine.
But the Sleep Council, for one, has drawn up some practical and useful sleep hygiene guidelines. Split into things to do in the morning, during the day, in the evening and at night, these include:
- Keep a regular sleep/wake schedule, or where possible try to wake up at the same time each morning and go to bed at the same time every night
- Get into natural light as soon as is practical in the morning, preferably around the same time each day
· Engage in daytime exercise
· Avoid stimulants that contain caffeine eight hours before bedtime
· Don’t go to bed full, hungry or thirsty
· Reduce electronic use before bedtime and avoid electronic use in the bedroom
· Don’t use alcohol to sleep
· Avoid nicotine before bed
· Ensure the bedroom is cool, dark and quiet before bed
· Ensure bedroom clocks are not visible
Another useful resource, especially from a workplace perspective, is Public Health England’s and Business in the Community’s Sleep and Recovery Toolkit.
This encourages employers to create the right “sleep culture” within the workplace, including things such as providing access to natural light, introducing flexitime for employees who travel or work across different time zones, and avoiding or reducing the frequency of emails sent outside of working hours.