Sleeping on the job

Why shut-eye is key to health and performance
Sufficient Sleep

Marcus de Guingand, managing director of fatigue management solutions consultancy Third Pillar of Health, explains how sleepless nights could be affecting you on the job.

Sleep is undoubtedly a “hot topic” at the moment. The reason? Too many of us simply aren’t achieving sufficient, good-quality sleep on a regular basis. The decline in the number of people achieving seven hours of quality sleep a night (the minimum recommended amount) had been marked in recent years.

Sleep is important to us in a number of ways. Sufficient good-quality sleep is vital to our health. It can aid protection from long-term chronic conditions, such as heart disease, obesity, diabetes and certain cancers. Good sleep can also contribute to a reduction in short-term illness and reduced immunity. Mental ill-health, for example, can be exacerbated by sleep deprivation, particularly prolonged sleep deprivation.

Sleep also plays a major role in performance. I’m sure we can all recall the day after a bad night’s sleep. The fuzzy mind, difficulty making clear decisions, the seeming reduction in our ability to communicate clearly and the increased likelihood of arguments with partners, colleagues, children or anybody else we encounter.

Studies have shown that sleep impacts our executive functioning and leads us to making poorer decisions in fast-moving situations and negotiations. So the obvious question – why has sleep deprivation increased?

The answer has many facets. Firstly is sleep duration. Too often we simply aren’t giving ourselves the chance to obtain the sleep we need on a nightly basis. We’re busy. Too many people believe they can sacrifice sleep to achieve more during the day. In reality this is a false economy. Productivity drops dramatically and it takes much longer to complete each task.

The second facet is the reduction in sleep quality. Beyond the obvious sleep-stealers like caffeine and alcohol we’ve only recently – in the scope of human evolution – been exposed to the smartphone and digital connectivity revolution. The screens of portable devices emit ‘blue light’, which hinders the role that the hormone melatonin plays in our circadian rhythm and our ability to fall asleep.

Perhaps more importantly is the constant connectivity. Most workers now have an email-enabled smartphone for work. Too often there is pressure to constantly respond to emails. Staff check emails at all times of day and some even during the night.

Aside from the issue with blue light, another issue is the anxiety created around having to respond to emails and the constant disturbance when we should be sleeping. This can also be the same in respect of social media, where we fear “missing out” on what’s happening. Add to this the invention of streaming services and there’s often a temptation to watch just “one more episode”.

Want to learn more? Then join Business Healthy, in conjunction with Third Pillar of Health and City law firm Squire Patton Boggs, for a webinar on 17 March, marking World Sleep Day.

The webinar will address the importance of sleep within the workplace setting. Sign up for the free webinar, taking place between 10.30am and 11.30am via Eventbrite.