Recently the conversation about staff health has moved onto a discussion around sleep. People are becoming more aware of the need for a decent amount of quality sleep. Sleep affects mental and physical health and makes a huge difference to work performance. The question is, as an employer, what can we actually do about this?
We posed this question to one of our trusted partners, Raewyn Guerrero, Functional Medicine Coach, sleep expert and founder of Well Works.
How does too little or poor-quality sleep affect staff from a performance point of view?
“It’s harder for people to engage meaningfully when they are sleep deprived. They may be present physically but mentally, they’re not functioning at their best. They’re also less likely to be team players as they are more likely to be irritable. Low mood is a consequence of poor sleep and immunity also suffers, so they’re more likely to be ill. Metabolism is also dysregulated as a result of poor sleep, so losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight can be more difficult. Finally, from a performance point of view, the ability to focus and poor decision-making are probably the most noticeable negative effects.”
This echoes what our research has shown. In our previous article on executives' lifestyles, we showed that one executive had a stress and recovery balance of just 10% after a poor night of sleep compared to 48% the previous day. This equates to a day in which 90% of the time, this executive was in a stressed state; reducing decision-making abilities, communication skills and further depleting the body’s resources.
What can staff do themselves to improve sleep quality?
Here are Raewyn’s top three things that will make a massive difference:
- Make sleep a priority. It’s easy to get caught up in working late, or working out late, then coming home, having a late dinner, then wanting to unwind in front of the TV for a few hours, and before you know it, it’s 1am. Our best quality sleep occurs between 10pm - 2am. That’s when all our body’s restorative processes are in full flow, so maximise that window by being in bed and sleeping. Create a ritual around prepping the body for sleep. Dimming lights. Having a bath. Allow your brain and body a chance to wind down.
- Light plays a big role in regulating our body clock, or circadian rhythms. Minimise blue light exposure from your phone as this is disruptive to our production of melatonin, the antioxidant hormone, vital for good quality sleep and regulating immunity, mood, and metabolism. You can also help your production of melatonin by getting day light exposure to your eyes, during the early part of your day. So when you wake up, make sure and allow light to enter your eyes and at the end of the day, dim the lights and avoid checking your phone after 8pm.
- Minimise alcohol consumption on school nights. While alcohol does have a sedating effect initially, what it does to your sleep quality is horrendous which is why the following day, you always feel fuzzy and more tired. If you need to relax, why not try something more like a guided meditation, or consider eating magnesium-rich foods like pumpkin seeds, spinach, and even dark chocolate, as magnesium has a relaxing effect, without the nasty side effects of alcohol.”
This last point again reflects what we saw when looking at the lifestyle resiliency profile results of the senior execs we tested. The issues started when they went for after work drinks leading to just 5 hours of sleep at a quality rating of 6%. This indicates that the body was still in a stressed state the entire night, setting them up for an incredibly low performing day at work the following day.
What can employers do to educate staff and promote behaviour change for better sleep?
“Employers can realise that a one-size-fits-all approach with employees can be harmful to their employees sleep and subsequent productivity. It’s important to understand that from a sleep perspective, genetically, there are two types of people - early birds and night owls.
Night owls are more creative and happy to work later in to the day, as their peak performance times happen around 9pm! They struggle with thinking coherently or making presentations or sales pitches in the morning, so they’re less likely to be sharp and deliver at their best.
Early birds however can jump out of bed and be happy to begin early, but also like to go home early, so if you’re asking them to do presentations or sales pitches in the afternoon or evening then understand that they’re less likely to deliver at their best.
There’s a simple genetic test which can determine if you’re an early bird or a night owl, although most likely you’re already aware of it, based on how easy it is for you to wake up in the morning. Organising teams and companies in a way that acknowledges these differences, like staggered start times or a flexible working policy, means that employees then perform at their best, without sacrificing their health and wellbeing.”