Are your employees getting enough sleep?
Sleep deprivation is now estimated to cost the UK economy £37bn a year, with employees who get less than six hours sleep a night generating twice as much absenteeism and presenteeism as their well rested colleagues.
Despite the fact that just 3% of people have the very rare gene that enables them to get by on less than six hours sleep a night, research from The Great British Bedtime Report shows three quarters (74%) of Brits are sleeping for less than seven hours a night, with one in ten people (12%) getting less than five hours.
Given that most adults need 7-9 hours sleep a night if they want to wake up feeling refreshed, with enough energy to last the entire day, the extent to which most people are now shortchanging themselves on sleep means that many employees will be struggling to function at their best.
The short-term implications of sleep deprivation include impaired mood, reduced mental sharpness and decreased ability to handle stress and make decisions, while the longer-term implications include weight gain, memory problems, weakened immunity and increased risk of depression, stroke, diabetes, heart problems and even Alzheimer’s disease.
So in the run up to World Sleep Day, which this year takes place on Friday 16th March, we thought we’d share our top tips on how to make sure everyone you employ, including you, is getting enough sleep…
How to get enough sleep
1. Take stock
There’s a big difference between the amount of sleep you can get by on, and the amount of sleep you need to function optimally. Many people have already learned to live with the side-effects of sleep deprivation, so it’s important to take stock and assess if you’re really getting enough rest and, if not, what impact this is having on your quality of life.
Have you forgotten what it’s like to feel energised all day? Do you struggle to resist hitting the snooze button in the morning? Do you regularly fall asleep during your commute, get sleepy in meetings, or feel sluggish in the afternoon? Do you struggle to stay awake while watching TV or relaxing in the evening? Do you feel quick to lose your temper or frustrated and tearful over relatively small things?
If the answer to any of these is yes, you’re not getting enough sleep. Try moving your bedtime forward and observing how you feel the next day, until you can establish for yourself how much sleep you personally need to feel energised and function well.
The quality of your sleep is also important. So when taking stock, also think about what factors make you feel most refreshed. If you have a sleep tracker that can monitor how much deep sleep you’re getting at night, this can also provide valuable insights. Just don’t let wearing it and worrying about it cause you to lose sleep!
2. Find a personal motivation
Even when you know how much sleep you need to feel good, the temptation to stay up late remains. The urge to finish something you wanted to do, watch the end of that movie or play about on social media at bedtime means many of us continue to shortchange ourselves of sleep.
To help overcome this, think about what feeling more energised and positive, instead of lethargic and groggy, could do for you. How might it impact on your sense of emotional balance? How would it improve your ability to do your work? What about your patience levels, your personal relationships or the stamina you have at the end of the day to meet up with friends, do a hobby or exercise? Not to mention reducing your risk of having a stroke or developing a heart problem or Alzheimer’s.
If you want to lose weight, you might be interested to know that feeling tired boosts the hormone that increases our appetite, making us crave more food, so the less you sleep the more unhealthily you’ll want to eat. Whatever your personal motivation, write it down and keep it clear in your mind when the many distractions encouraging you to stay up late start to melt your desire to get a good night’s sleep.
Is whatever you’re doing late at night worth feeling rubbish for the following day? If not, ban yourself from doing it, even if it means setting an alarm to tell you when to turn all your technology off before bed, or even to go home and get some rest in the first place.
3. Establish a bedtime routine
Although we all get at least some sleep during the night time, however irregularly, people who habitually go to bed at the same time, wake up at the same time and have a consistent bedtime ritual are much more likely to be able to sustain a positive sleeping pattern.
By allowing yourself to wind down before bed – for instance, by replacing screen time with reading or meditating or listening to music in a darkened room – you can increase your chances of falling asleep faster. If you’d rather do something a bit more active, keeping a gratitude journal and writing about three things you have to be thankful for that day, has been proven to be hugely beneficial to our mental wellbeing, helping to reduce anxiety levels and worries before bedtime.
By establishing a consistent, conscious evening ritual, in much the same way that many of us have already established a morning ritual, you can make going to bed at the same time a positive habit that you naturally feel compelled to do.
When creating your bedtime ritual, it’s also important to understand what to avoid, such as drinking caffeine, eating a heavy meal or hard exercise. Instead, think about things you can do to relax, from taking a bath or drinking chamomile tea to reading a relaxing book or using a lavender spray to encourage sleep.
The main thing is to be consistent and try not to break the rules by staying up late on random days because you feel like it. The more you can go to bed at the same time, the more you will want to do this.
4. Address your worries
Our ability to get a good night’s sleep is inextricably linked to our mental health. Waking up early and struggling to get back to sleep is often one of the first signs of the onset of depression, while struggling to fall asleep in the first place due to stress or worries is the main reason most of us fail to get a good night’s sleep at all.
If you find your mind starting to turn over the day’s events or dwelling on worries during the quiet of night, keep a pen and paper by your bed so you can jot down things concerning you to be dealt with another time. Alternatively, try to allocate a specific time slot each week when you focus on what’s worrying you, so that your mind is more likely to be free from those concerns when you need to sleep.
Worrying about not getting enough sleep can be a worry that keeps us awake in itself. But try not to beat yourself up if you’re struggling with insomnia – even the best sleepers will experience times when they struggle to sleep. And since resting is 70% as effective as sleeping, try to stay relaxed.
If you can’t sleep (or relax) because of a particular challenge, be it a financial worry, stress at work or a relationship breakdown, it can often help to talk to a counsellor to come up with a strategy for resolving the problem and alleviating the emotional impact this is having on you. Call your Employee Assistance Programme or speak to your GP, if you need support. If the issue keeping you awake has passed but you’re still finding it hard to sleep effectively, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can be helpful for changing your behaviours to help you re-establish a successful sleeping pattern.
5. Eliminate obstacles to sleep
If using your smartphone at bedtime to set a morning alarm means you suddenly find yourself checking work emails, surfing the net or engaging with social media, set your alarm earlier in the day or leave your phone in another room at night and get a separate alarm. (The fact that you need an alarm already means you’re already sleep-deprived!)
If your partner keeps you awake at night, think about what you can do to resolve the problem, from changing your mattress to getting earplugs to dealing with snoring or even sleeping apart. Partner disturbance means that one in ten people (12%) choose not to share a bed with their partner and 24% of couples sleep apart at least some of the time.
If you’re responsible for looking after young children, your sleep is inevitably going to be compromised for a while. This makes it even more important to go to bed at a decent time or think about how you can share the responsibility for tending to a child, so that you can optimise your sleep as much as possible. If your child isn’t sleeping long after they are old enough to have learned to settle themselves, consider enlisting the help of a sleep counsellor, to help you all get back on track.
If you’re a night owl and find yourself being naturally more awake, and getting a ‘second wind’ at the time you’re meant to be winding down, find out if you can flex your working hours to something that fits in better with your natural circadian rhythms, even if that’s just working from home two days a week. If that’s not feasible, accept that you need to be extra disciplined about establishing and adhering to a bedtime ritual if you still want the benefits of a restful night’s sleep.
Want to give your workforce more energy?
We hope you and your employees found those tips helpful. If you’re interested in boosting the energy levels and productivity of your workforce further, we offer a range of workshops designed to equip employees with the psychological insights and motivation needed to boost their energy to achieve their full potential.
Please email [email protected] for more information.