Why should businesses care about their workforce’s sleep quality and how can they help improve it?

Blog by Marion Beauregard,

Sleeping too little or not sleeping well has a direct impact not only on people’s health but also their performance at work. Companies with employees that sleep well perform better than those that with deprived workers.

A member of staff sleeping badly or not enough is likely to experience the following:

  • Change in mood and interpersonal skills
  • Sleepiness at work, loss of motivation
  • Reduced ability to learn new things, retain information and focus
  • Lowered productivity (poor work quality and slower at getting things done)
  • More prone to viruses, colds and serious illnesses (cardiovascular problems, diabetes, depression, etc)
  • Lower level of alertness and increased risk of serious injuries and accidents.

To decrease the risk of workplace accidents while increasing overall workplace productivity and profitability and improving employee’s health and wellbeing, managers simply need to start by asking their staff members questions about how they are sleeping and take action accordingly. Following that, they need to raise awareness amongst their employees about the link I described above between sleep deprivation/bad sleep quality and their productivity and personal health and provide them with guidance to support them and help them sleep better. We look at simple advice and tips in more detail later in this post. Managers have to be realistic with deadlines and optimise work processes, providing employees with a stress-less work environment (stress affects sleep quality and lack of sleep affects stress levels). Taking work home in the evening, at the weekend or working longer hours in the office should not be encouraged as it is stealing precious hours from employees when they should be unwinding, exercising and sleeping, all activities contributing to enhanced focus and productivity the following working day.

A quick note about shift work: businesses should be mindful and limit the number of nights that one employee can work in a row. Working during the night is not natural for our body and extra advice should be given to shift workers to restore their energy during the day.

So, here are a few tips to guarantee you (and your employees if you’re a manager) get enough sleep, the kind of sleep that makes you feel refreshed, clear minded and ready to face the day.

  • Understand sleep cycles and raise your awareness of how much sleep you need.

We all need different amounts of sleep to feel refreshed and rested. The first step to a good night sleep is to become aware of how much sleep we need. The best guarantee of a good sleep quality which enables us to function at our best is to work five days a week and sleep between 7.5 to 9 hours a night. Losing an hours sleep from one day to the other can make a huge difference in the ability to focus and be productive. As much as we can, it is important to keep to the same sleeping routine.

The first thing you need to do is monitor how you feel during the day and watch out for the symptoms of lack of sleep (struggling to get out of bed, sleepiness during the day, moodiness, lack of concentration, etc) and if you are experiencing any of these, try and sleep for longer and notice the difference on how you are feeling during the day.

The second thing you need to understand is how sleep cycles work. Sleep is not one straight affair, it operates in cycles, each lasting on average 90 minutes. Within each cycle are different stages, from deep sleep to dreaming sleep and each stage is very important and plays a different part in preparing you for the day ahead. To feel refreshed, alert and rested, the best time to wake up is at the end of a sleep cycle. If you are really struggling to get up in the morning and keep snoozing, it might be because your alarm went off whilst you were in the deep sleep stage of a sleep cycle. If you want your mornings to be less of a struggle, try and set up an alarm that’s a multiple of 90 minutes. Say for example, you switch the light off at 10.30pm, set an alarm for 6am (a total of 7,5 hour sleep). Your body will be naturally closer to the awake state and it will be easier to get going for the day than if you were setting your alarm at 6.30am where you are likely to be back into deep sleep.

  • Exercise

There is an endless list of health benefits to exercising and one of them is that it contributes to a good night sleep. Try to exercise at least 3-4 times a week for a minimum of 30 minutes. It is best if you can pick a sport that gets your heart and muscles pumping. Any time of the day is good to exercise except within the last three hours before you go to bed. When you fall asleep, your body naturally cools down and if you exercise shortly before you go to bed, your body temperature rises and it can take hours before cooling back down. Allow time for your body’s temperature to drop. Also, do not take very hot showers before bedtime, try and have a warm shower to aid the “cooling down” process.

  • Micro breaks and power naps

During your working day, take a break before you are tired. You will restore your energy much more quickly, be effective and feel alert much longer and to top it off, you will notice your sleep quality improve. Try and aim to take 4-5 micro breaks throughout the day (30 seconds can be enough) and do this:

–          Sit down, close your eyes, notice the tension in your body and release it. Unclench your jaw, relax your shoulders, feel the contact of your feet with the floor. Breathe out profoundly.

–          Tune in with yourself and become aware of your breath. Ask yourself: “Am I breathing?” You definitely are but sometimes you can unconsciously be holding your breath. How are you breathing? How does it feel? Do you like it or do you want to change anything?

If you are very tired and sleepy during the day, consider power napping. I know it is hard to take time to do this during your working day but believe me, it is worth it. The only warning is, make sure you do not nap for longer than 20 minutes or you will not reap the benefits of the nap. Here is a 5 minute power nap that is easy to try out during your lunch hour or break:

–          Sit down on a chair somewhere where the floor is not carpeted. Hold a set of keys or a metallic object in your hand. Close your eyes. Scan your body from head to toe for any unnecessary tension. Make a conscious effort to relax your body bit by bit. Then focus on your breath, exhale for longer than you inhale and let your body relax a bit more every time you breathe out. At this point, you will start deeply relaxing and your hand will release the keys or object which will hit the floor and wake you up, time to go back to work. This power nap is enough to restore your energy and increase your focus for the rest of the day. Give it a go!

  • Review your sleep hygiene and environment

Some basic advice that can make a huge difference to sleep quality: fix a bedtime and stick with it, avoid caffeine/alcohol for a few hours before bedtime, have a light dinner, use comfortable bedding, keep the room well ventilated, turn the tv/computer off at least 30 minutes before bedtime (anything electronic keeps your brain stimulated), sleep in a very dark room.

  • Stop trying to multi-task

We think we can multitask but we actually can’t. You will get more things done during the day if you focus on one thing at a time. Give it a go! Not only does jumping from one task to the other is not productive but it is also exhausting for your brain. It takes a lot of energy to change focus and be concentrating fully again on the next task which means you might feel more tired at the end of the day and you are more likely to have your mind racing with thoughts at bedtime. Find a time management technique that works for you. I find the Pomodoro technique works great for me. Work for 25 minutes on one task, take a short break (3-5 minutes) and repeat.

About Marion Beauregard

Marion Beauregard is a Sophrology practitioner based in London. With a background in office work and a specialisation in stress, sleep and burnout, she works in partnership with businesses in the UK and in France to help improve staff’s health and wellbeing through tailored effective stress management programmes.

Marion’s approach is highly experiential, providing people with techniques that they can easily re-use at home and at work. The focus on practice over theory aims to integrate techniques at a deeper level and help people quickly and effectively access their natural ability to feel calm, relaxed and positive.

Marion has a particular interest in burnout prevention, burnout recovery and return to work post burnout.

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