The hidden problem of sleep deprivation The hidden problem of sleep deprivation

The hidden problem of sleep deprivation
13 Dec 2017

A recent report by research firm Rand Europe revealed that sleep deprivation among workers in the US, Japan, Canada, the UK and Germany resulted in a vast $680 billion being lost to the economy each year. A second US-only study conducted by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention also found that more than a third of adults were struggling to get a good night’s sleep.

But the problem is that all those sleepless nights have a more serious impact on people than simply feeling a bit tired. While the odd late night after a Christmas party will not do too much harm, regulary poor sleep patterns increase the risk of serious medical conditions such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes, thus shortening life expectancy.

The causes of sleep deprivation can be many and varied, ranging from inconsistent working hours and work-related stress to relationship problems, money worries and the always-on nature of modern technology such as emails. 

But the impact of all this on employees can be wide-ranging. For example, safety is a major concern for people who drive a lot or operate heavy machinery. Workers in more office-based roles, on the other hand, often have difficulty concentrating and are more prone to make mistakes, which means their productivity suffers. As a result, not only is the impact of sleeplessness felt by the individual themselves, but there is also a knock-on effect on the rest of the team - particularly if it is their manager who is the sleep-deprived one.

To make matters worse, if the reason for this lack of rest is non-work-related, people tend to become anxious as they realise their work performance is suffering. This situation generates more worry, which affects sleep patterns even more and can ultimately lead to them needing to take time off for stress.

Health and wellbeing strategies

But even though poor mental health and dysfunctional sleep patterns often go hand-inhand with one exacerbating the other, very few employers currently address the issue in their health and wellbeing strategies. Indeed, research by Willis Towers Watson revealed that only 17% of employers proactively educate their employees on the effect of sleep on wellbeing at all.

Nonetheless, more are starting to understand how factors outside of the workplace such as sleep deprivation can affect the working lives of their staff. As a result, according to the ‘Employee Wellbeing 2017’ report jointly put together by the UK’s Rewards and Employee Benefits Association and Punter Southall Health & Protection, the number of organisations that plan to include sleep in their wellbeing strategy is set to more than double from 42% to 88% over the next few years.

But even today, there are many simple things that employers can do to help improve employee wellbeing such as introducing sleep education and/or stress management programmes such mindfulness, meditation and yoga. They can also ensure travel policies cater for periods of rest and make efforts to clamp down on a presenteeism culture.

Ways to help

Senior managers should likewise be careful to lead by example, making a point of leaving the office on time and refraining from sending emails late at night.

Managers of all levels would also benefit from being trained to spot signs of any sleep and/or poor mental health issues such as a drop in performance, problems concentrating, increased error rates and a general lack of enthusiasm. While it is important to engender a culture in which employees are encouraged to talk about such matters, managers should also recognise that a lot of people will try to hide what is going on and so they need to keep their eyes peeled and handle the situation sensitively.

Do bear in mind though that many group insurance policies these days provide confidential third-party support to staff, which often includes expert help in tackling the underlying causes of sleep deprivation. Some also offer complementary therapies such as reflexology, hypnotherapy and counselling, which are usually funded by the insurer and made available at no extra cost.

These kinds of confidential services, particularly if provided outside of the workplace, are generally most beneficial as they enable employees to deal with their problems privately without fear of being judged – a situation that hopefully means they will not need to lose any (further) sleep over it.

“Even though poor mental health and dysfunctional sleep patterns often go hand-inhand with one exacerbating the other, very few employers currently address the issue in their health and wellbeing strategies.”

 

Christine Husbands has been managing director of RedArc Nurses, a service that provides personal nurse advisers for people experiencing illness, disability, trauma or bereavement, since 2010. She spent the initial part of her career in financial roles and has held several board-level positions in financial services organisations.

A recent report by research firm Rand Europe revealed that sleep deprivation among workers in the US, Japan, Canada, the UK and Germany resulted in a vast $680 billion being lost to the economy each year. A second US-only study conducted by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention also found that more than a third of adults were struggling to get a good night’s sleep.

But the problem is that all those sleepless nights have a more serious impact on people than simply feeling a bit tired. While the odd late night after a Christmas party will not do too much harm, regulary poor sleep patterns increase the risk of serious medical conditions such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes, thus shortening life expectancy.

The causes of sleep deprivation can be many and varied, ranging from inconsistent working hours and work-related stress to relationship problems, money worries and the always-on nature of modern technology such as emails. 

But the impact of all this on employees can be wide-ranging. For example, safety is a major concern for people who drive a lot or operate heavy machinery. Workers in more office-based roles, on the other hand, often have difficulty concentrating and are more prone to make mistakes, which means their productivity suffers. As a result, not only is the impact of sleeplessness felt by the individual themselves, but there is also a knock-on effect on the rest of the team - particularly if it is their manager who is the sleep-deprived one.

To make matters worse, if the reason for this lack of rest is non-work-related, people tend to become anxious as they realise their work performance is suffering. This situation generates more worry, which affects sleep patterns even more and can ultimately lead to them needing to take time off for stress.

Health and wellbeing strategies

But even though poor mental health and dysfunctional sleep patterns often go hand-inhand with one exacerbating the other, very few employers currently address the issue in their health and wellbeing strategies. Indeed, research by Willis Towers Watson revealed that only 17% of employers proactively educate their employees on the effect of sleep on wellbeing at all.

Nonetheless, more are starting to understand how factors outside of the workplace such as sleep deprivation can affect the working lives of their staff. As a result, according to the ‘Employee Wellbeing 2017’ report jointly put together by the UK’s Rewards and Employee Benefits Association and Punter Southall Health & Protection, the number of organisations that plan to include sleep in their wellbeing strategy is set to more than double from 42% to 88% over the next few years.

But even today, there are many simple things that employers can do to help improve employee wellbeing such as introducing sleep education and/or stress management programmes such mindfulness, meditation and yoga. They can also ensure travel policies cater for periods of rest and make efforts to clamp down on a presenteeism culture.

Ways to help

Senior managers should likewise be careful to lead by example, making a point of leaving the office on time and refraining from sending emails late at night.

Managers of all levels would also benefit from being trained to spot signs of any sleep and/or poor mental health issues such as a drop in performance, problems concentrating, increased error rates and a general lack of enthusiasm. While it is important to engender a culture in which employees are encouraged to talk about such matters, managers should also recognise that a lot of people will try to hide what is going on and so they need to keep their eyes peeled and handle the situation sensitively.

Do bear in mind though that many group insurance policies these days provide confidential third-party support to staff, which often includes expert help in tackling the underlying causes of sleep deprivation. Some also offer complementary therapies such as reflexology, hypnotherapy and counselling, which are usually funded by the insurer and made available at no extra cost.

These kinds of confidential services, particularly if provided outside of the workplace, are generally most beneficial as they enable employees to deal with their problems privately without fear of being judged – a situation that hopefully means they will not need to lose any (further) sleep over it.

“Even though poor mental health and dysfunctional sleep patterns often go hand-inhand with one exacerbating the other, very few employers currently address the issue in their health and wellbeing strategies.”

 

Christine Husbands has been managing director of RedArc Nurses, a service that provides personal nurse advisers for people experiencing illness, disability, trauma or bereavement, since 2010. She spent the initial part of her career in financial roles and has held several board-level positions in financial services organisations.

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