Workplace Wellbeing

How Sleep Affects Mental Health

Find out how company leaders can help employees manage their sleep concerns for both personal health and the health of the business.

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Spring Health
Clinically reviewed by
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    A good night’s sleep is so important, yet for many, so difficult to come by. Since the pandemic hit in 2020, a good night’s sleep has become even more elusive as worries have increased.

    Sleep issues can carry over to the workplace. Whether in the office or working remotely, employees who need to be sharp and mentally alert for their jobs may find that insomnia is affecting their ability to do their best work.

    Concerns about lowered work performance, as well as concerns about managing personal responsibilities, increase stress and anxiety—which can lead to even more sleep issues. It’s important that company leaders help employees manage their sleep problems for both the health of their workers and the health of the business.

    The link between sleep and mental health

    An employee who is experiencing insomnia may have one or more mental health issues because of a lack of adequate sleep. Insomnia is more than an inability to fall asleep. The Mayo Clinic says this common sleep disorder can “make it hard to fall asleep, hard to stay asleep or cause you to wake up too early and not be able to get back to sleep.”

    Insomnia can be caused by many factors including:

    • Stress
    • A disrupted sleep schedule 
    • Big meals late at night
    • Consuming caffeine, nicotine, or alcohol before bed
    • Stimulating activity before bed
    • Medications
    • Certain medical conditions 
    • Mental health disorders

    Some of these insomnia-inducing issues can be dealt with by lifestyle changes. Others may require the aid of a healthcare professional. Whether the sleep issues are caused by habits or medical problems, a lack of sleep or interrupted sleep can cause several mental health issues including:

    • Loss of alertness, concentration, reasoning skills, and problem-solving skills
    • Memory problems
    • Depression
    • Irritability
    • Anxiety
    • Paranoia
    • Suicidal thoughts

    Poor sleep can bring on mental health disorders and exacerbate existing disorders. Employees who have the skills and desire to do their best work can find themselves drained of energy, fighting emotional issues, and performing below their usual skill level when sleep eludes them. 

    Facts and figures: Sleep and mental health

    Statistically, there will be employees who struggle with sleep issues at any company. 

    Adults require seven or more hours of sleep each night, according to the CDC. However, a third of adults say they regularly get fewer than seven hours of sleep. And those who are likely to get their seven hours in each night varies by geography, race/ethnicity, employment and marital status. 

    While some choose to get less sleep, others would like to get a healthy night’s sleep but suffer from insomnia.

    Science Daily reports that a study done by the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine found that about 25%  of Americans experience acute insomnia—defined as difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep for as little as three nights per week for at least two consecutive weeks up to three months—each year.

    Fortunately, 75% of those with acute insomnia find their way back to a good night’s sleep without developing chronic insomnia.

    Whether the insomnia is short-lived or chronic, its effect on the workplace can be significant. Workplace Mental Health reports that each year insomnia costs employers $90 billion. That loss is from employees who come to work without enough sleep and have reduced productivity, workplace accidents, and errors. 

    How to encourage your employees to get adequate sleep

    Encouraging employees to take on habits that will promote better sleep will be beneficial all around. There are also things that can be done in the workplace that may help workers sleep better at night. 

    Promote consistent work schedules

    Many employees take work home with them, picking that work back up late in the evening after attending to personal and family matters. By creating a work environment where work is limited to office hours, employees won’t be doing work that stimulates them shortly before bedtime. This policy should be emphasized for employees who work remotely from home, too. 

    Encourage employees to keep office hours, even when their office is in their dining room. This may mean reviewing the responsibilities that employees are assigned to ensure what is expected of them does not require more time than their job description states.

    Put non-caffeinated beverages in the break room

    Companies that offer coffee to workers should make sure there are plenty of caffeine-free choices, too. Decaf tea, juices, water, and other beverages should be made available for drinking any time of day, but particularly later in the day to promote a better night’s sleep for employees. 

    Promote exercise

    One of the best ways to make exercise easy for employees is to offer free- or reduced-fee gym or fitness classes. Ensuring that employees have the time to exercise by not expecting them to work during non-office hours also encourages employees to get their bodies moving. Not always able to get up during the day? Mental wellness exercises can provide another means of promoting wellbeing.

    Offer help to address sleep issues

    Through employee health insurance benefits, a company should make sure that employees have adequate access to professional sleep disorder screening. Employees should also be given the time off necessary to complete the screening and any follow-up appointments or orders. A few days given to an employee to take care of their sleep problems may keep them from making big mistakes that take more than a few days to fix.

    Spring health offers a range of options that companies can call upon when their employees need assistance with sleep disorders. Our EAP program can connect people with sleep specialists. Our Moments app includes exercises that can both educate employees about sleep health and assist them in getting a better night’s sleep. It can also connect employees with a therapist so they can discuss the issues that cause stress and anxiety, issues that may be the root of their insomnia.

    How to improve your sleep for mental health

    Educating employees about improving sleep is another step employers can take to make sure they have a mentally healthy, alert workforce and improve productivity. Make sure workers know these tips for improving their sleep.

    • Go to sleep at the same time each night. Even on weekends or extended periods of time off, keeping a regular sleep schedule will help with circadian rhythms and a full night’s sleep.
    • Keep the bedroom for sleeping (or sex). Make it comfortable, dark, and relaxing. Leave electronics out of the room, including televisions. 
    • Avoid big meals before bed. The same goes for caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol. 
    • Get plenty of physical activity during the day. Walking, going to the gym, and taking fitness classes such as yoga can help promote a full night’s rest.
    • Calm the mind. Meditation, a hot bath, or breathing exercises can bring on relaxation and a calm mind. 
    • Consider taking supplements. Natural supplements such as melatonin or lavender can make falling asleep easier. Talk with a doctor before beginning a supplement routine.
    • Limit liquids before bed. Waking in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom disrupts sleep. Limiting liquids could make that 2 am trip to the bathroom unnecessary. 

    Spring Health offers employers a way to help offer their employees mental health benefits, including the benefit of getting a better night’s sleep. Contact us to learn more or request a demo to see how Spring Health can partner with your organization.

    About the Author
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    Spring Health

    Spring Health is a comprehensive mental health solution for employers and health plans. Unlike any other solution, we use clinically validated technology called Precision Mental Healthcare to pinpoint and deliver exactly what will work for each person—whether that’s meditation, coaching, therapy, medication, and beyond. Today, Spring Health supports over 4,500 organizations, from startups to multinational Fortune 500 corporations, and is a preferred mental health provider to companies like General Mills, Bain, and DocuSign.

    About the clinical reviewer
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