We spend a third of our lives asleep. Most people know that a good night’s sleep is the best way to recover after a hard day.
But sleep is not just critical to recovery, it essential for maintaining cognitive skills such as communicating well, remembering key information and being creative and flexible in thought.
There is also a strong relationship between sleep and physical and mental health and not getting enough sleep has a profound impact on our ability to function. If it develops into a pattern, the cumulative impact is significant.
The impact of lack of sleep
Links between a lack of sleep and high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes are emerging. It also makes us more vulnerable to infection and raises the risk of accident and injury.
There are many reasons why you might get less sleep than the recommended 7 - 9 hours a night. Work-related stress, working anti-social hours, illness and injury, getting older, money worries and personal loss are just a few of the issues that can keep us awake at night.
But how do you know if lack of sleep is affecting you at work?
Common signs include a general deterioration in your performance, poor concentration or poor memory, as well as being in a poor mood and greater risk taking.
What you can do about it?
There are steps you can take if you feel you’re showing signs of any of the above and think it may be down to not sleeping enough. This is where “sleep hygiene” comes in.
Don’t be confused by the phrase ‘sleep hygiene’, it’s not about how clean your bedding is!
Rather, sleep hygiene is about creating the ideal conditions for a good night’s sleep.
Everyone’s different, but good examples include sticking to regular bed times and making an effort to relax as the time for sleep approaches as well as avoiding heavy meals, caffeine and alcohol late at night.
Think about your use of technology too - this isn’t just a late night distraction (or the cause of stress if you’re always checking work emails). Blue light from computer screens, tablets, smartphones, LED lighting and some TVs can keep you awake by suppressing the sleep-inducing hormone ‘melatonin’.
The impact on businesses
Businesses are increasingly aware of the impact of sleep deprivation on the health and wellbeing of their employees, and the knock-on implications for productivity. They’ve asked for information, evidence-based advice and steps they can take to support sleep and recovery in the workplace.
We’ve worked with Business in the Community to produce a range of toolkits for employers, co-produced with business.
Central to the sleep toolkit is the recommendation that businesses create an understanding environment, where employees can be open with their managers about any sleep-related issues that are hampering them at work.
That way line managers and employees can identify the risks to health and wellbeing in your workplace together and gather the right information to help you put plans in place to manage risks. This can be especially important when changes to your work schedule or significant changes like organisational restructuring are planned.
The new sleep toolkit takes businesses through this process, with information on the importance of sleep, the business case for good sleep and actions which address the causes of sleep deprivation in employees.
Although we all make our own decisions at night when to lie down and go to sleep, there are lots of ways employers can support us all as individuals to get a better night’s sleep, and ultimately help us all to be healthier and achieve our potential in the workplace.