Should Companies Incorporate Sleep Into Their Health And Wellbeing Programmes?

17/10/2016 11:56

It is safe to say that in the last couple of years sleep has become a hot topic. The rise of multiple technological solutions, the increase in articles in the media, books about how to get the sleep you need and movements such as the "Sleep Revolution" all point to the growing importance we're placing on our sleep.

But why? Poor lifestyle choices, a lack of good information on sleep and a new culture of "busyness" are all to blame. Coupled with the rise in sleeping disorders - be they chronic or transient - the result is a society where too few people are getting sufficient good quality sleep.

The financial crisis was the first prolonged downturn where we were technologically enabled at a personal level. It also coincided with the boom in social media. As pressure on business increased, headcount reduced and workloads rose. Demands on individuals from bosses and peers grew and technology never really allowed us to switch off properly.

At the same time we wanted to join real-time conversations on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, What's App, Instagram and the like. We simply didn't want to miss out. And with smartphones and tablets we didn't have to. It has driven us to an unhealthy attachment to our personal devices.

This gives rise to two main problems: firstly, the blue light from personal devices affects the hormone melatonin, which play an important role in sleep onset and secondly, through increased job and personal stresses. In the case of stress is it easy to fall into a downward spiral. Increased stress makes it more difficult to get to sleep and to stay asleep and a lack of sufficient good quality sleep hinders our perception and in turn leads to greater levels of stress.

So why does this matter? It is not my intention to go in to depth on this but numerous studies have shown that sleep deprivation can have an immediate adverse effect on our health, alertness and productivity. This can be the case after even one night of poor sleep but is compounded if our poor sleep continues for any period of time.

From being more likely to catch a common cold through to an increased risk of chronic conditions such as heart disease, obesity, diabetes and cancer poor sleep affects our health. We know ourselves that our alertness drops after a bad night of sleep. We find it much more difficult to concentrate. This translates into poor productivity and an increased safety risk.

Whether you're inputting trades into a trading system, driving heavy plant or machinery, trying to make a major sale or negotiate a complex deal the effects of sleep deprivation will be affecting you and hindering your ability to perform your role to the best of your ability.

According to a major 2006 study conducted by the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine and the Integrated Benefits Institute fatigue was the single greatest productivity cost to organisations with sleeping problems 4th.

When taking in to account medical and pharmacy costs (remember in a US health care system), fatigue was the third highest cost to organisations with sleeping problems 5th. Stress and musculoskeletal issues were the top two costs.

We applaud any health and wellbeing initiative launched by employers for their staff, but too often they are simply targeting exercise and nutrition. You can understand why - these were the two central themes of the government's Chage4Life campaign and garnered the greatest media attention. From a purely productivity perspective these topics will not necessarily yield the greatest return on investment when compared to tackling sleep and fatigue. Think too - when you're tired you are much more likely to skip the workout and make the unhealthy food choice.

So large companies with established wellbeing programmes, often with monthly or quarterly themes and forward-thinking SMEs who perhaps only run ad hoc wellbeing programmes should always try to find topics and activities that will generate the most interest and produce the greatest returns.

Have we reached a point where that is sleep?

About the author: Marcus de Guingand is the managing director of Third Pillar of Health - who will be attending the Wellbeing at Work Event London on Wednesday 19th October. If you would like to hear amazing speakers talking about wellbeing and meet with innovate companies in this field then book a ticket now via this link here

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