Why it pays to prioritise healthy sleep

Alarm clock by woman's bed

Encouraging healthy sleep habits improves productivity and safety.

It’s long been talked about and understood how a combination of a good diet and regular exercise is essential for your health and wellbeing.

In recent times, sleep has been focused on as a third pillar of good health, which is no surprise as we all know how much better we feel after a good night’s sleep.

Poor sleep adversely affects our moods, mental health, cognitive functioning and concentration.

So, when it comes to our working lives, it’s evident that promoting better sleep health can improve our focus, energy, and productivity, and reduce sick leave and workplace accidents and injuries.

Sleep affects the whole body and is fundamental to our lives. It’s when our body can recover physically and repair itself, essential to good cardiovascular health, immunity, metabolism and brain development.

Essential parts of sleep

Sleep can be broken down into three main parts.

  1. Sleep quantity is the amount of sleep you get over 24 hours.
  2. Sleep quality is how easily you fall asleep and stay asleep to feel refreshed once you wake up.
  3. Sleep consistency is the timing and regularity of your sleep pattern.

All three are essential. If one or more are lacking, your sleep health is seen as ‘poor’, and you’re more likely to have reduced health and wellbeing.

It’s no surprise that in a time when we are ‘always on’, whether it’s social, work or answering emails and scrolling on screens at all times of the day, demand for treatment of sleep disorders is increasing.

A 2016 study of 1,000 Australian adults found that nearly two-thirds reported one or more sleep problems.

This not only has a significant effect on our physical and mental health but also our social life and workplace participation, and occupational health and safety.

Man looks at a computer in a dark office at night

Wake up to risks

Poor sleep is a significant risk in accidents and injuries.

In Australia, in 2016-17, 23% of all motor vehicle accidents and 25.8% of workplace injuries were put down to inadequate sleep. Industries that rely on shift work are at the highest risk.

And there’s a long list of chronic health conditions that are associated with poor sleep, such as Type-2 diabetes, hypertension, obesity, cardiovascular disease, dementia and depression.

In short, when people have the right amount of quality sleep over a sustained period of time, they are healthier and safer.

Good sleep is essential for every aspect of life – including work.

Unfortunately, only about 65% of adults report getting the recommended seven or more hours of sleep. This has a significant effect on productivity, absenteeism, and safety.

As we understand the effects of poor sleep on our health and wellbeing, it’s crucial that workplaces start helping their employees improve their sleep habits to get longer, higher-quality sleep, which, in turn, improves their productivity.

It can be as simple as educating your team about the importance of getting good sleep and giving them tips on what is called ‘sleep hygiene’, which is the name given to strategies and habits we can all develop to get better sleep and manage our fatigue.

Studies show that workplace-driven efforts to encourage improved sleep hygiene and healthier habits have improved employees’ sleep duration and quality, and decreased sleepiness complaints.

Workplace education about sleep hygiene and fatigue management is the most common workplace strategy.

However, there are more strategies you can employ to address sleep issues. We’ll get to this later.

Woman using a phone in bed when it is dark

Tips for improving sleep hygiene

Good sleep is something that can be improved with practice, and developing a bedtime routine is essential.

  1. Set a bedtime and wake-up time you can stick to every day of the week. This gets your body’s circadian rhythms into sync.
  2. Stop eating around three hours before bed. Eating raises your body temperature, which isn’t conducive to good sleep.
  3. Try dropping your evening cup of coffee or tea. Sensitivity to caffeine increases as you get older, so avoiding caffeine after lunch is probably best. And limit your alcohol as this can result in poor sleep quality.
  4. Keep the lights low in the evening, as this stimulates your body’s melatonin production, the hormone that prepares your brain for sleep.
  5. Have a warm, relaxing ten-minute bath with some drops of lavender oil. Then, give your body enough time to cool down after.
  6. Write a list of the things you need to do the next day to avoid waking up in the middle of the night worrying about the day ahead.
  7. Ditch the TV, and don’t take your screens to bed. TV and scrolling keep us awake and stimulate the brain.
  8. Listening to music instead of looking at screens can help you get to sleep faster and sleep longer. Slow music with 60 to 80 beats per minute is the most effective.
  9. Get your bedroom ready with thick curtains, keep the temperature down as you sleep better in a cool bedroom, remove the screens, try earplugs, and the last one and maybe the most important…
  10. Get the most comfortable bed and bedding you can.
  11. Remember the other two pillars of health – good diet and regular exercise.

Happy and productive team meet to talk in an office

How to support your team

In addition to providing an education program on good sleep hygiene to your team, there are many other strategies you can apply in your workplace to promote healthy sleep.

These can include:

  1. Setting a limit on the number of hours an employee can work per 24 hours and over seven days. This should also include overtime limits.
  2. Establishing a minimum of ten to 11 consecutive hours off from work in a 24-hour period so employees can get seven to nine hours of sleep.
  3. Introducing more flexible scheduling options.
  4. Encouraging short naps during work breaks and providing nap rooms or other areas where employees can take a break and rest during the work day.
  5. Establishing effective fatigue risk management systems.
  6. Ensuring fatigue-related factors are included in incident reports and investigations.
  7. Providing workers with access to a health care provider that specialises in sleep disorders.
  8. Offering employee assistance programs to provide employees with resources and support for managing stress, anxiety, and other issues impacting their sleep quality.
  9. Protecting evening and night shift employees by not requiring their attendance at meetings or work functions during time off when they can be sleeping.
  10. Creating a sleep-friendly work environment by reducing noise levels, controlling light levels, and providing comfortable seating and workstations.

By promoting and addressing sleep hygiene, both your employees’ and your workplace benefit.

The improvement in performance, absenteeism and staff retention, employment engagement and general satisfaction, means your workforce will be healthier, happier and more productive.

And that’s good for business.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.