Sleep is crucial for survival, and quality sleep should be considered as essential for optimal health and wellbeing. It's one area of wellness that needs to be addressed in order to achieve a healthy, happy workplace. (Learn more in 14 Ways To Create A Workplace Culture of Wellness).
Employers can play an important role in supporting a good night's sleep for their employees. This is because good quality sleep starts with the actions a person takes during the daytime. It is important that the body is in a state of relaxation and ready to 'hit the hay' by the time night falls.
The Sleep Problem Epidemic
According to a CDC analysis, more than one third of Americans sleep for seven or less hours per night, and about 4% of the adult population have reported using prescription sleeping medication in the past month.
Further statistics highlight that at least 40 million Americans suffer from chronic sleep disorders and only 35% get enough sleep each night. Given that sleep plays a very important role in supporting a healthy mind and body, this is a highly concerning statistic.
The demands of a busy modern lifestyle have seen many people turn to 'sleep hacks' to get by on very little sleep. An understanding of the problems that sleep deprivation can cause should be evidence enough to avoid these practices, and instead to focus on sufficient, good quality sleep.
Sleep Deprivation Problems
During sleep, the body undergoes repair both psychologically and physiologically. Insufficient sleep can seriously impair mental performance because the body has not been allowed adequate time to repair. The negative repercussions can include:
- Impaired judgement, reasoning, attention and memory
- Lessened ability to focus, concentrate and make decisions
- Fatigue, and difficulty accessing higher-level cognitive functions
- Decreased emotional stability and reduced motivation
- Increased risk for health conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, obesity, depression, heart attack, and stroke
These problems can transfer over to lost time and productivity in the workforce. Additionally, the potential for costly or dangerous mistakes and injuries may be increased.
Thankfully, there are a number of things that employers can do to help support their employees in getting a better night's sleep. Let's take a look at some ideas for simple actions that can be implemented in the workplace.
Daytime Actions in the Workplace to Support Good Sleep
1. Help your employees to reduce their caffeine intake
Some people are especially sensitive to caffeine and need to be very careful about consuming any at all if a good night's sleep is their goal. Caffeine has a long half-life, which means that traces of a morning coffee can still be in the body when evening comes. Drinking coffee in the afternoon can easily have a disruptive effect on night-time sleep.
As a general recommendation to help improve sleep, caffeine-sensitive individuals should either eliminate caffeine or stick to a small amount consumed only in the morning. As an employer, you can help educate employees about the potential sleep disrupting effects of caffeine. You can also offer caffeine-free alternatives such as herbal tea in your workplace cafeteria.
2. Sunlight exposure to regulate serotonin levels
Employers can help their employees to get more sunshine by encouraging them to get outside during short breaks and lunch breaks. To build on this idea, consider an occasional "lock-out lunchtime" where everyone has to get out and enjoy the sun. A thoughtfully designed office space that allows plenty of natural light to enter the building can also be helpful. (Learn more about Lighting Ergonomics).
3. Help employees keep their stress levels under control
Stress levels and sleep quality are very closely linked. If an employee isn't sleeping well at night, the root cause can often be problems with managing stress levels. Stress can come from a number of different areas of life, and the workplace has the potential to be one of the main culprits.
Help employees manage stress levels by ensuring their workload is appropriate and that they get regular breaks throughout the day. Importantly, they should be discouraged from taking work home with them so that they have time to properly rejuvenate themselves and get ready for the next day.
Another idea is to introduce stress-reducing wellness initiatives. These could include regular massages or meditation classes.
4. Exercise/movement during the day to use up energy
Getting exercise in during the day can help burn up energy and make sleep easier. Employers can help by encouraging employees to exercise during the day. Make it easy for workers to exercise in the morning by providing a shower facility in the workplace. Daytime exercise can be made easier by allowing time to get active over the lunch hour or during work time.
5. Special help for night workers
Night workers operate outside of a normal circadian rhythm so they can be among those who are most at risk of having problems with sleep. Employers can help by offering regular shift patterns so that they can more easily find a new rhythm. When shift patterns need to change, allow plenty of time in between these changes so that employees' bodies have adequate time to adjust to a new sleep pattern.
6. Get a wellness expert to come in and speak about sleep hygiene
A wellness expert can help communicate all of these points to your workforce. This will assist employees in understanding the importance of good quality sleep, as well as provide some action points they can take to improve it.
Some additional areas that a sleep wellness talk can cover include:
- Natural sleep aids for those who have trouble with sleep
- Environmental considerations such as room temperature and comfort
- Tips to get to sleep and fall back asleep after waking during the night
Quality sleep should be considered a crucial piece of the workplace wellness puzzle. Please visit the workplace testing wellness category for more ideas on how to support wellbeing in the workplace.