It is estimated as many as 16 million UK adults suffer from sleepless nights, while around a third of us have insomnia. With World Sleep Day taking place this month and National Stop Snoring Week happening next month, it is a good time for employers to “wake up” to promoting the importance, and value, of a good night’s sleep.
Employee health and wellbeing – the importance of getting a good night’s sleep
World Sleep Day, run by the World Sleep Society, takes place this month on March 15 and is designed to, as the society outlines, “raise awareness of sleep as a human privilege that is often compromised by the habits of modern life”.
Combined with National Stop Snoring Week next month from April 22-26, run by the British Snoring and Sleep Apnoea Society, these are a great opportunity for employers to focus on, and revisit, the health and wellbeing value of employees getting a good night’s sleep.
The importance of not being sleep-deprived is already well-recognised – and self-evident – in the context of safety-critical working. An employee who is lacking in sleep may make more errors and be less able to concentrate than a non-sleep deprived colleague, something that, in a safety-critical environment, can of course potentially have devastating and damaging consequences.
Similarly, the risks of being sleep deprived for employees who need to drive for work are pretty self-evident, with the charity Brake, for one, highlighting the significant role of driver fatigue in many accidents on our roads.
Fatigue, insomnia and wellbeing
But fatigue, insomnia and conditions such as sleep apnoea can have a massive impact on health, wellbeing and productivity in general in the workplace.
The health insurer Aviva, for example, last year estimated that as many as 16 million UK adults suffer from sleepless nights as a third (31%) say they have insomnia.
Research by herbal remedy manufacturer bonuit has also argued that 90% of women and 87% of men experience sleep disturbances at least once a week.
At a more academic level, a recent Swedish study concluded that high levels of job strain and low physical activity were associated with poor sleep quality.
Similarly, a study back in November by software firm Wrike argued that as many as 42% of UK workers regularly lost sleep because of workplace stress.
So, given that we all recognise it is not the responsibility of an employer to be tucking employees into bed at a reasonable hour with a cup of cocoa and a soothing story, what should employers be doing about this?
There may be little employers can do directly to ensure employees get a good night’s sleep. This is likely to be especially the case if, say, the employee is a new parent. But there is much they can do to help indirectly.
As the Wrike survey highlights, stress, anxiety and worry can often leech into sleeplessness and insomnia, so encouraging a culture of openness and transparency around mental health and wellbeing can be valuable.
Resilience and time management
Similarly, looking at the effect of long hours on health and wellbeing can be important. Offering, emotional intelligence, resilience and time management training may be beneficial, too. For example, as a manager you may think you are being efficient by working late into the evening to clear an email backlog.
But for their employee receiving a work email late at night when there is little they can do about it, especially one that may cause worry, can be counter-productive if it then produces an anxious or sleepless night.
At a practical level, and given the scale of insomnia if Aviva and bonuit are anything to by, employees may also welcome health promotion education, tips and advice on getting a good night’s sleep. And it is here that initiatives such as World Sleep Day and National Stop Snoring Week can be a great opportunity to kickstart activity and conversations.
When it comes to sleep apnoea, this is something that it may be a good idea to get a GP referral for and, from there, specialist healthcare support and intervention. But, as an employer, simply making employees aware of this condition, and how it presents, may also be valuable.
As Dr Lucy Wright, Optima Health Chief Medical Officer, advises: “When we leave work and go home for the night it is, clearly, not an employer’s job to be advising us, as adults, when and how we should go to sleep. Some of us are naturally more ‘night owls’ than ‘early birds’ and vice versa. It is also fair to say that, for all of us, there will be times when work deadlines mean we have little choice but to burn the candle at both ends.
“But if a workplace culture and environment – the hours, demands, stressors, management style and so on – is actively encouraging cutting corners on sleep, or leading to employees suffering sleepless or anxious nights, that is not good for health and wellbeing as well as performance and productivity. And in a safety-critical environment, sleep deprivation can be downright dangerous.
“Events such as World Sleep Day and National Stop Snoring Week can therefore be a good calendar marker for health promotion and education activities in this area, but also as a moment to kickstart reflection and conversation around the value of achieving, if you can, a good night’s sleep,” she adds.