Quality sleep is vital for our health, yet isn’t always easy to come by. Many of us are also finding these days that our sleep health is affected by current events, like the COVID-19 pandemic. As “coronasomnia” continues to make us toss and turn, it’s never been more imperative to understand how sleep affects our daily lives, in the workplace and beyond, and what we can do to harness the health benefits of good sleep.

To better appreciate the effects of sleep on mental health, and in turn, sleep’s impacts in the workplace, Spring Health recently hosted a webinar with Dr. Lauren Hale, professor of family, population, and preventative medicine at Stony Brook Medicine. Lauren is the founding editor in chief of the academic journal on sleep, Sleep Health Journal. During our webinar on sleep and workplace wellness, she discussed how HR and other business leaders can help their employees get a better night’s rest and improve overall workplace well-being.

Read the recap below.

Understanding sleep

Poor sleep health affects many people. In fact, up to 70 million adults suffer from some form of sleep deficiency or disorder.

The consequences of unhealthy sleep range from the more mild to very significant. Sleep is beneficial to every organ of the human body, so when sleep is poor, your physical health too can suffer, leading to hypertension, diabetes, inflammation, and other problems. Mental health, too, takes a hit with poor sleep. Brain performance is impaired, leading to worse decision making and impaired performance, whether at home or at work.

Poor sleep can also exacerbate the effects of mental illness. Those who report mental health problems are more likely to also have sleep deficiencies like insomnia. Sleep has such a large effect on mental health that treating sleep issues can also help improve psychological well-being. Being proactive and specific about sleep issues can result in overall positive results.

Experts recommend at least seven hours of sleep at night. Some sleep organizations also recommend no more than 9 hours a night, as longer hours are also associated with higher mortality rates. If employers are finding employees that need longer than nine hours of sleep, it could be a good idea to recommend they look at potential underlying conditions.

Consequences of sleep loss for employers

The various and wide-ranging negative consequences of poor sleep impact all areas of life. At work, employees who suffer from poor sleep could see their decision-making skills negatively impacted. Studies show that with reduced sleep comes an increased inability to process complex data. One’s ability to judge “good” vs. “bad” decisions and information is impaired, as well. And, short-term and long-term decision-making is impacted, with long-range thinking made harder with a lack of sleep.

So, how do these negative effects manifest in the workplace? Unfortunately, there are many consequences of sleep loss, including:

  • Absenteeism. Poor sleep easily leads to illness, which can result in missed work.
  • Presenteeism. Employees who slept poorly may show up to work, but not perform well.
  • Low productivity. Due to poor sleep, employees might be easily distracted and unfocused.
  • Reduced safety. High safety risks are associated with employees getting bad sleep, especially in the transportation and health care industries.

How to encourage healthy sleep for your employees

Fortunately, there are many ways to address and improve sleep issues with employees. Encourage them to develop healthy sleep habits by providing information on how to achieve good sleep. Some ideas include:

  • Keep a regular schedule. Going to bed and waking up at the same time on weekdays and weekends leads to deeper sleep.
  • Exercise regularly, and not too late at night.
  • Get light (natural if possible) during the day and avoid it at night.
  • Don’t go to bed too hungry or too full.
  • Keep your bedroom cool (65-70 degrees), dark, and comfortable.
  • Don’t drink caffeine or alcohol at night, and avoid caffeine in the afternoon.
  • Give yourself time to wind down at night, avoiding screens.
  • Practice stimulus control. If you find you can’t fall asleep in bed, get up and do something else. In the morning, if you wake up early, get up instead of trying to fall back asleep.

Along with educating employees about sleep health and ways to get better sleep, employers should also consider limiting overtime and expectations to work after hours. Offering flexible hours could help employees find their ideal individual schedule. If you are working in-person, providing a nap room or promoting nap breaks could be a good idea. Encourage employees to create a healthier work-life balance, overall.

Employers and HR managers can also look at some larger solutions to help employees sleep better. Consider modifying environmental factors at work, like lighting. For industries where sleep health is especially important, a Fatigue Risk Management Plan (FRMP) can help systematically monitor and evaluate fatigue and related outcomes through reporting systems, and address changes needed.

Above all, make sure that the needs of employees—from mental health to financial—are addressed. Provide easy access to mental health benefits that screen for and work with sleep health issues.

Watch the full webinar here for more information on sleep and the workplace.

At Spring Health, we know just how much sleep health impacts mental health. That’s why our comprehensive mental health screening provided to all members addresses sleep patterns and behavior. Request a demo of Spring Health to see how it can support your team members today.

Nora Hickey
Nora Hickey

Nora is a staff writer for Spring Health.

February 8, 2021