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With a legacy of excellence in occupational health spanning decades, we unite the expertise of Soma Health and Maitland Medical into Spire Occupational Health. Our mission is to deliver comprehensive occupational health solutions tailored to your organisation’s unique needs.


The importance of sleep

The wake-up call: Understanding the vital relationship between sleep and the workplace

In the hustle and bustle of today’s workplace, one often overlooked factor can significantly impact productivity, health, and overall wellbeing: sleep. Surprisingly, while it may seem like a personal matter, both employers and employees play crucial roles in ensuring adequate rest, especially in a landscape where burnout and stress are rampant.

Gone are the days when sleep deprivation was dismissed as solely an individual’s problem. Employers are increasingly recognising the profound effects of sleep on their workforce and the bottom line. According to research, insufficient sleep costs the UK economy approximately £50 billion, primarily from increased healthcare costs and reduced productivity. It’s a staggering figure that underscores the importance of addressing sleep issues in the workplace.

While employers are not legally responsible for an employee’s sleeping habits. They do, however, have a few key things to consider:

  1. There must be at least 11 hours of rest time between working days. For 9-5 working environments, this isn’t as much of a concern. However, this needs to be considered when timetabling for shift work or night work.
  2. If an employee is not getting enough sleep due to work-related stress and the business does not endeavour to make reasonable adjustments to resolve this, they may be failing in their duty of care.
  3. Lack of sleep can result in health problems, irritability, or loss of concentration which can all result in dangerous and costly incidents for an organisation, particularly in higher-risk industries such as those that operate heavy machinery or participate in some form of manual labour.

Understanding the science behind sleep is key. Contrary to common misconceptions, sleep isn’t merely downtime; it’s a critical period for physical restoration and mental processing. Our bodies repair and rejuvenate, while our brains consolidate memories and facilitate learning. A good night’s sleep isn’t just a luxury—it’s a necessity for optimal functioning. According to research, those who sleep less than six hours a night have a 13% higher mortality rate, than those who get an optimal amount of sleep of between seven and nine hours.

Yet, the reality is that many individuals struggle to prioritise sleep. Long hours, tight deadlines, and digital distractions often take precedence over rest. The notion of “catching up” on sleep is debunked; if an individual is persistently not getting enough sleep during the week, they can’t simply sleep in at the weekend to make up for it. That ‘sleep debt’ will continue to accrue and potentially cause long-term negative implications for the immune system, mental, and cardiovascular health.

Poor sleep can present in the following ways in the workplace:

  • Reduced performance
  • Increased sickness and absence
  • Poor memory
  • Bad mood or mood changes
  • Loss of concentration
  • Reduced communication
  • Increased caffeine consumption
  • Greater risk-taking

How to make work sleep-friendly?

Education, communication, and facilitation are key pillars in addressing sleep issues within organisations. Providing training to managers and employees on the importance of sleep, integrating sleep awareness into health and wellbeing policies, and creating a supportive work environment are essential steps. Employers can also engage with occupational health to ensure that the working environment is also not contributing to lack of sleep, taking into consideration things like natural lighting, and rest-friendly breakout spaces.

For night shift workers, the challenges of maintaining adequate sleep are particularly pronounced. Disrupted circadian rhythms and irregular working hours can wreak havoc on their sleep patterns, leading to a host of health and performance issues. Employers must recognise the unique needs and consider proactive measures to support them. This includes:

  • Providing appropriate rest breaks and scheduling adequate time off in between shifts
  • Optimising working conditions such as lighting and temperature to minimise disruption to sleep schedules
  • Offering healthy food options during night shifts to help regulate energy levels
  • Providing resources and training for strategies to improve sleep quality

Moreover, it’s imperative to challenge the pervasive “macho culture” that glorifies sleep deprivation as a badge of honour. The line between work-life and home-life is increasingly blurred. If work creeps into an employee’s personal time, resulting in sleep deprivation, the negative effects of lack of sleep will begin to cost the business, sooner or later. Encouraging work-life balance and setting realistic expectations can help mitigate the pressures that lead to sleep disturbances.

In conclusion, the importance of sleep in the workplace cannot be overstated. Employers and employees must collaborate to prioritise rest and wellbeing alongside professional responsibilities. By fostering a sleep-aware culture and implementing supportive measures, businesses can enhance productivity, reduce absenteeism, and safeguard the health and happiness of their workforce. After all, a well-rested employee is not just a benefit to themselves but to the entire organisation.

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