Six tips to promote better sleep habits

As an employer it is important to recognise signs of sleep deprivation in your staff, and how you can promote better sleep habits.

Employees that are getting a good nights sleep are more productive and are less likely to be sick. Here are six tips to encourage your staff to get a better nights sleep.

How much sleep should your employees be getting?

As an employer, you are more likely to be getting a good nights sleep as you due to your senior position. However, research has suggested that employees are less likely to get the recommended number of hours compared to someone in management. And the problem is getting worse with 1 in 3 people in the UK affected by some form of insomnia. On average an employee achieves just 6 hours and 19 minutes.

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In order to feel refreshed and to perform at their maximum potential, your staff should be getting between seven to nine hours per night. Sleep is a basic human requirement and, as an employer, ensuring your promoting a good nights sleep should form part of your overarching health and wellbeing strategy.

What are the common causes of employee sleep deprivation?

There can be potentially be an endless number of reasons why your employees aren’t getting the sleep they need. However, as an employer it is important to be able to identify the key reasons within your business which could be cause so that you can mitigate the risk of this.

1. Unmanageable workload

Employees who are not getting the required amount of sleep might be due to an unmanageable workload. It is not uncommon that job responsibilities expand when colleagues leave the organisation until a replacement can be located. An unbalanced structure can lead to workplace stress for employees and lead to high levels of absenteeism, burnout and ultimately the churn of staff. For more information on workload stress why not read our article “How to help manage employee workload stress”

2. Shift work

Research by the TUC has suggested that more than 3 million people in the UK work night shifts accounting for one in nine employees. Shift workers are likely to suffer from a disruption to their biological rhythms, know as the body clock, which regulates the timing of processes such as eating, sleeping and body temperature. However, shift workers are more susceptible to more serious conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.

3. Mentally and physical demanding job types

It’s a fact that there are some industries and job roles that are more demanding either physically or mentally than others. Mentally demanding jobs include those where the employee is under excessive pressure through extremely tight deadlines or having to deliver highly complicated and intricate work . Other roles put a huge physical demand on the employee which can quickly lead to exhaustion if poorly unmanaged.

What are the signs your staff are not getting enough sleep?

As an employer it is important that you can recognise the symptoms of an employee who is not getting enough sleep. This is especially important for employees who could be putting themselves, or others, at risk by not getting the rest required such as those employees who are operating heavy machinery or those driving public transport. It is important that as an employer you spot the warning signs of sleep deprivation.

1. Increased caffeine intake 

You might notice employees, who are not getting enough sleep, reaching more regularly for an energy drink or for a 3rd of 4th cup of coffee.
Short and long term memory loss – during a good nights sleep, the brain forms connections which ultimately results in information being retained. You may notice employees who are not getting enough sleep being more forgetful than normal.

2. Higher levels of absenteeism 

Sleep is essential for a healthy immune system. Employees who are not getting a good nights sleep are more likely to pick up viruses such as colds and flus and you might note that they are taking more sick days than other colleagues

3. Mood changes

Employees who are not getting a good nights sleep are more likely to show a shorter temper and to be generally unhappier. If unresolved this can be linked to more serious mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.

What are the effects of poor sleep habits

Intense work schedules, stress and busy lives can all be to blame for sleep falling lower down employees’ priority lists today. And that’s not to mention a reliance on caffeine and sugary stimulants to get many of them through the working day, as well as being glued to our mobile phones.
And this lack of sleep can be just as detrimental to employees’ work performance as it is to their health. How employees’ poor sleep impacts your business Sleep deprivation in employees can cause:

1. Lower productivity

One study found that 70% of sleep deprived employees are unable to focus in meetings and 68% take longer to complete tasks

2. Less creativity

Research showed that 65% of sleep deprived employees are unable to come up with original ideas

3. A higher risk of illness

Sleep is crucial for good health, and those not getting enough of it can become more susceptible to minor illness, as well as weight gain and fatigue

4. Emotional instability

Exhausted employees are likely to become irritable and sensitive, affecting workplace relationships
All of which can cost your business through sickness absence, lost productivity, mistakes and poor employee morale.Promoting healthy sleep habits amongst employees is crucial in order to minimise these costs and boost your business performance. 

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What employers can do to promote healthy sleep habits in staff

1. Reduce workplace stress

Stress is one of the main causes of poor sleep, and of course it impacts everybody differently. However, our Mental Health in the Workplace Report found the top three causes of workplace stress were increased workload (38.2%), financial concerns (17.9%) and workplace bulling (9.5%). So, consider ways to deal with these issues, like training employees around time management and regularly reviewing their workloads. Introduce lunchtime workshops to help educate employees on financial management, and ensure your company has a zero-tolerance anti-bullying policy.

2. Encourage a healthy lifestyle

Eating a healthy balanced diet, and exercising regularly contribute to better quality sleep. Offering healthy options in the work canteen and vending machines, providing free office fruit, discounted gym memberships or cycle to work schemes are all ways you can promote healthier employee lifestyles. Our article on helping employees to fit exercise into their working lives includes more tips.

3. Educate employees on the benefits of sleep

It’s very easy to de-prioritise sleep if we aren’t fully aware, or reminded of, the benefits it has on all areas of our lives. Especially for those who rely on stimulants such as caffeine to keep them going for hours on end.
Consider running workshops or interactive online courses helping employees to understand the benefits of better sleep and providing tips to help them achieve it.

4. Create a nap space

A short power nap, of between 5-20 minutes is said to be better for you than a caffeine fix - for improving memory, motor skills and perceptual learning.
This short burst is said to be the ideal length for napping, making it easy enough to wake up from and not leaving that post-nap grogginess you may get from a longer sleep.
Many companies have now introduced ‘nap pods’ for these reasons (including Google and Ben & Jerry’s). If your workspace allows for nap pods or a nap room, it could be worth trying out!

5. Provide flexibility

If your employees are struggling with sleep, consider allowing them to adjust their start and finish times, or even work from home. This could help them create a healthier sleep cycle and improve their work life balance.

6. Offer professional support

70% of employees we surveyed for our Mental Health in the Workplace Report said they would use a confidential mental health helpline provided by their employer if they were experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition. For example, a 24/7 EAP helpline comes as standard with Benenden’s Healthcare for Business. Your employees could access professional support and advice about a range of topics that may be affecting their sleep, like relationship worries, employment anxiety and bereavement.

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