16 September 2014

Sleep more to beat Stresstember

Did you know that sleep can reduce stress and is also crucial for workplace productivity? Here’s how to turn stresstember into sleeptember.

Do you think September is a particularly stressful month? If so, you’re not alone, with the Sleep Council UK dubbing it ‘stresstember’ and emphasising the importance of sleep on reducing stress.

The Sleep Council UK has suggested that September is the start of the ‘stress calendar’. This is because this month is when children go back to school, the weather starts getting cooler and we have no more public holidays to look forward to until December. It launched a campaign to stresstember into sleeptember after a survey of over 2,000 people found that:

  • almost 90% felt some sort of stress, with 40% admitting to being regularly or constantly stressed
  • 72% believed stress had affected their sleep
  • over 70% have suffered from sleep conditions such as insomnia at some point
  • only 27% said they were good sleepers

It can often be a vicious circle: stress can keep you awake at night, making you more tired and affect your ability to perform day to day tasks, which can then increase your stress levels. Conversely, a good night’s sleep can help to reduce stress.

Business reasons why sleep is important

Most companies now acknowledge the link between stress and workplace performance, but do you know that sleep is also crucial for productivity?  

Inadequate sleep can affect decision making skills, concentration, memory, creativity and mood. It also increases the likelihood of health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. So, it’s not just bad for business - it is in everyone’s best interests to make sure they get enough sleep.

If you think you can make up for lost sleep at the weekend, sorry to burst your bubble, but it’s not always the case. While two days of recovery sleep at the weekend can reduce your sleepiness, the extra sleep doesn’t necessarily improve your attention and focus, according to a study from Penn State University College of Medicine. It’s also been discovered that genes associated with responses to stress, and inflammation become more active when you have less sleep.

Lack of sleep = increased sickness absence

Another reason businesses should be encouraging staff to have a good night’s sleep is because of the link between sleep and sickness absence. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine found that those who had an optimum amount of sleep recorded fewer sick days and better health.

But it’s not about getting as much sleep as possible – too much sleep can be as bad as too little according to the study.  It found that those who slept for five hours or less or 10 hours or more were likely to have higher levels of sickness absence than those who had optimal sleep (between seven and eight hours each night).

Tips for improved sleep

While you can’t control how your staff spend their non-working hours (and nor should you want to), you can take some actions to help encourage activities that reduce stress and encourage a good night’s sleep. This advice is also relevant for you as the business owner or manager.

  • As well as affecting our ability to sleep, stress and anxiety account for a significant percentage of work-related illnesses. The most common stressors at work are insufficient support, workload pressure and bullying. Try to ensure your employees aren’t overloaded and make changes to boost staff wellbeing and productivity.
  • Avoid scheduling meetings at times when your team is less likely to be alert, for example straight after lunch or at the end of the day.
  • Ensure your office is well-lit. Bright light in the daytime can help you sleep better at night. You can also encourage staff to take their lunch breaks and get outside. Natural light and fresh air can help make you feel more energised in the afternoon.
  • Perhaps easier said than done, but don’t encourage drinks with caffeine in after 2pm. The effects of caffeine can last for many hours, disrupting natural sleep patterns. Plus it can make your stress levels worse.
  • While ‘falling asleep on the job’ has traditionally been a big no-no, short naps of up to 20 minutes have been shown to improve productivity, alertness and decision-making. If you’re not averse to trying this in your workplace, you’ll find you’re in good company. Many large organisations have introduced areas where staff can have a quick nap, including Google with its energy pods.
  • Set work boundaries. While the traditional 9-5 may be a thing of the past for many businesses, it doesn’t mean you should be encouraging emails or other work late at night. In reality, it could be hampering their productivity, so don’t create a culture in your business where it’s ok to send emails at all hours of the night.