Can employers help the UK sleep better?
According to Nuffield Health’s latest research, 74% of UK adults have reported a decline in quality sleep over the past 12 months and a further 10% are only sleeping for 2-4 hours per night. More than 50% don’t believe that quality sleep builds immunity.
The survey of 8,000 UK adults has highlighted that the number of people experiencing insomnia increased to one in four, following the pandemic. Google searches for ‘insomnia’ skyrocketed and most searches happened in the early hours of the morning.
The research revealed that 35–44-year-olds get the least sleep, with almost 50% getting only 5-6 hours per night. A mere 33% of respondents get the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep per night.
Sleep deprivation is though to cost the UK economy £37 billion a year in lost productivity due to poor sleepers having reduced reaction times and trouble concentrating, increasing the likelihood of accidents and costly mistakes. Chronically disrupted sleep increased the risk of work absence by 171%.
The evidence indicates that there is both a need and an opportunity to help workers improve their sleep hygiene. Nuffield Health advises employers who wish to enhance sleep quality amongst their workforce:
Outline expectations – Employers need to define expectations, such as work hours, to encourage better sleep patterns. Avoid scheduling early morning or late evening calls, and let employees know that they are not expected to respect to respond to emails outside of working hours.
Train for triggers – Managers need to learn to spot the signs of sleep-deprived workers, such as mood swings, poor attention, distraction, copious amounts of coffee and yawning. Once spotted, a line manager should be trained to guide co-workers to access the relevant occupational health services available. Understanding that sleep support is essential and should be incorporated into the company’s values.
Promote physical health – Employers must emphasise the benefits of exercise in regulating sleep patterns. For example, going for a run or brisk walk during lunch hours provides exposure to natural daylight which, in turn, promotes healthy sleep hormones.
Employers can also provide advice around nutrition and caffeine to help individuals make healthier choices.
Offer specialist support – The stresses of everyday life, such as finances, addiction, or family problems can negatively impact sleep quality.
When employees see signs of emotional difficulty, the affected individuals should be directed towards the relevant emotional wellbeing support available to them, such as cognitive behavioural therapy or employee assistance programmes.
Employers can also consider additional support, for example, inviting a sleep specialist to run an online seminar on best practice habits before bed, such as avoiding blue light devices and keeping the bed for sleep only.
Gosia Bowling, National Lead for Emotional Wellbeing Nuffield Health, commented: “Many businesses have adopted a ‘hybrid’ approach to working and it’s important to note this ‘new normal’ won’t automatically facilitate perfect sleeping patterns. That’s why it’s crucial employers ‘wake up to sleep’ and work with their healthcare providers to support their workforce.
“Taking a holistic view on health – including offering interventions that cover the full range of risks – is the only way to get back to maximum wellbeing and create a healthier nation.”