Why sleep is the key to a healthier, happier and more productive workplace?
Dr Jonathan Bloomfield, Exercise Physiologist and Corporate Wellness Consultant with Mammoth
Life in 2019 is busy and stressful. In fact, many of us are driven to believe that keeping ourselves constantly occupied at work and in our domestic lives is an important part of our identity. While there is absolutely nothing wrong in working hard and pushing ourselves to achieve as much as possible, there is a danger that we leave ourselves with little time to rest and recover. And the first thing that often gives way when we find ourselves working hard and under stress is sleep.
Stress can be both beneficial and harmful in our lives. Acute stress in a short burst can help us to perform very well at times – there’s nothing like a bit of pressure from the boss, a deadline to meet or an important presentation to the board to raise the pulse and get some adrenaline flowing. However, when stress turns chronic, it is only a matter of time before our health and wellbeing begins to suffer.
The opposite side of stress is recovery – an important antidote to those pressured moments and an opportunity for us to relax and reset. Yet in the modern workplace an “always on” culture and intense pressure at work across long hours can reduce the time we have to calm ourselves and feel reenergised.
The consequence of this is often that people feel “burned out”. We are seeing that this inability to switch off leads to a sleep-deprived workforce with a higher susceptibility to illness; not to mention low morale from constant tiredness.
Fortunately for workers, many organisations are now catching on to the benefits of having better rested and recovered staff. By creating a well-balanced working culture, staff are, on the whole, more productive at work. Interestingly, instances of staff absenteeism also drop in organisations where the work–life balance is carefully managed.
Why is sleep loss such a problem?
Business attitudes towards sleep are not helped by the fact that sleep has often been associated with time lost and a detriment to productivity. Phrases such as “you snooze, you lose” or “money never sleeps” have led to sleep being considered in a negative light.
In my own interactions with businesses and employees, I spend much of my time helping people to reassess this thought process and instead see sleep and recovery as a strategic aid for better performance and productivity – both at work and in personal pursuits.
Inadequate sleep slows reaction times, reduces coordination, causes memory lapses, under-estimates risks, reduces patience and tolerance and generally leads to poor cognitive function. This becomes a major concern in safety-sensitive type work, but also affects all roles where decisions are being made or where relationships are important.
We all know what it feels like to be tired and stressed. And we also know how difficult it can be to maintain a positive frame of mind and a friendly demeanour when fatigue sets in. Over time, what starts as being short-tempered and irritable with friends and colleagues can become a more pronounced physical or mental health issue.
Paying attention to sleep requirements
We can be very poor at recognising that we are suffering from a negative stress/recovery balance. Being busy tends to mask the reality of our true condition and we often ignore any signs and symptoms that are warning us that we are in a chronic state of under-recovery. Through our tiredness, we just keep going.
However, giving adequate time and space for relaxation is something that we all need to work at. For employers that also means encouraging staff to keep their work within agreed operating hours rather than spilling over into late-night emails or dangerously long overtime.
Ultimately, my message to both individuals and employers is this: if you want to optimise performance during the working day; optimise the time you dedicate to rest and relaxation, too.
Dr Jonathan Bloomfield is an Exercise Physiologist and Corporate Wellness Consultant and is a sleep advisor to Mammoth – the sleep and comfort specialists behind the Bhealthy range. Every mattress in the Bhealthy range features Mammoth’s cooling Medical Grade™ Foam and PostureCell®, the only sleep technologies of their kind to be developed in partnership with the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy. Shop the Bhealthy range