Sleep and the workplace

It is safe to say that every workplace has a strict no alcohol policy. It is widely known that drinking alcohol before or during work hours can impair concentration and coordination. But, did you know that sleep deprivation has a similar effect, and that sleep deprivation can also impact your ability to perform efficiently, effectively and safely, putting both yourself and those around you at risk? Worryingly, a lack of sleep is known to have the same effect on reaction time as having a blood alcohol concentration at 0.05%, which outlines just how important it is to have a good night sleep.

Sleep is just as important as food, water and air. Without it, we simply would not function. Poor sleep is associated with a wide range of negative consequences including memory impairment, reduced productivity, mental health disorders, a weakened immune system and poor overall health and wellness.

Sleep is vital for brain function and performance and it is unsafe for sleep deprived individuals to be working in high risk environments. Previous industrial and civil disasters, road accidents and other workplace blunders have taught us this costly lesson.

Our body’s systems are governed by sleep and without it, we are vulnerable to illness and chronic diseases, as well as negative mental health effects, such as diabetes, obesity, heart disease and depression. According to a recent survey, a quarter of Australians may take one sick day per month as a result of poor sleep. Therefore, sleep deprivation can have a large impact on the financial health and productivity of a workplace, especially if employees are needing to take days off. This also puts extra strain on the rest of the team.

Some work environments, industries and roles are simply not conducive for optimal sleep. For example, shift workers, nurses, truck drivers, and those in managerial roles are just a few examples of environments sleep deprivation in employees is typically high. In which case, industry and specific workplace fatigue policies need to be implemented to ensure a safe working environment where fatigue does not contribute to health and safety risks. The employee also has a responsibility to monitor their alertness and concentration and should notify their supervisor if they do not feel fit to work. On days off, employees should be making sure they recuperate to avoid burnout.

Signs that an individual has had insufficient sleep include; tiredness even after sleep, reduced hand, eye coordination or slow reflexes, short term memory problems and an inability to concentrate, blurred vision or impaired visual perception.

The optimal amount of sleep is around 7-8 hours. Sleep quality is more important than sleep quantity. The first four hours tend to be the most restorative, particularly for physical exhaustion.

Below are some tips to ensure a good night’s sleep:

1. Set regular sleeping schedule
  • Go to bed at the same time every night.
  • Wake up at the same time every morning.
2. Develop a sleeping ritual
  • Implement calming activities to your routine to wind down and prepare for sleep.
3. Avoid ruminating/worrying before bed
  • Write things down earlier in the evening
4. Create a sleep sanctuary.
  • Reserve bedroom for sleep, intimacy, and other restful activities (reading and meditation).
  • Keep it on the cool side.
  • Develop a “no technology” policy. This means no TV, computer, Blackberry or iPhone.
  • Ensure you have a suitable pillow and mattress for comfort and support
5. Spend time outside in the sunshine (at least 60 mins per day), particularly in the morning.
6. Minimise exposure to bright (blue) lights at night (especially 90 mins before bed).
  • Use incandescent bulbs, RED LED lights or candles.
  • Dim screens and adjust to warmer colours.
  • Download blue light blocking apps on your devices if needed:
  • Purchase a Bluelight blocking phone filter.
  • Purchase Blue light blocking glasses.
  • Use an eye mask.
7. Nap only if necessary.
  • Why? Naps can interfere with your ability to sleep at night and can throw out your sleep-wake cycle.
  • Nap for no more than 30 minutes.
  • Do not nap too late in the day (i.e. after 2PM).
8. Avoid caffeine at least 6 hours before bed.
9. Avoid smoking or illicit drugs.
10. It is best to avoid alcohol, especially at night.
11. Get regular exercise, but not within three hours of bedtime
12. Drink plenty of water throughout the day. According to Better Health Victoria, most adults should be drinking between 2.1-2.6 litres of water per day.
Resources

Workforce Health Assessors supports employees at work through pre-employment medicals and ongoing employee health checks. WHA organises, performs, and reports on medical assessments to help businesses mitigate health risks. We handle everything from pre-employment medicals, drug and alcohol screenings, to workplace wellness initiatives. Learn more about our employee health checks and other health assessment services.