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Time to ‘wake up’ to sleep deprivation

Louise Aston

Sleep deprivation is a growing public health issue, with 1 in 3 people in the UK affected by insomnia. Living in a 24/7 “always on” society, as well as the impacts of physical and mental health issues and the stresses of modern life, means many people’s sleep is more disrupted than a few decades ago. Contributor Louise Aston, Community Wellbeing Director – Business in the Community.

A lack of sleep is increasingly being linked to high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes, and raises the risk of accident and injury. But sleep is not just critical to health, it essential for maintaining cognitive skills such as communicating well, remembering key information, and being creative and flexible in thought. This is important for employers, especially as sleep deprivation results in 200,000 working days lost every year, costing the UK economy £30bn. From an employer’s perspective, the benefits of a healthy workforce are clear. Healthy staff are more productive, take less time off sick and don’t need to retire early. Using this toolkit, employers can begin reversing the national decline in sleep.

It highlights both the business and moral case for adequate, good quality sleep and recovery. It includes a checklist of actions for employers to take, under the broad themes of being prepared, encouraging good sleep and recovery, and providing knowledge and training. Creating an understanding environment, where employees can be open with their managers about any sleep-related issues that are hampering them at work, is central.

Dr Justin Varney, National Lead for Adult Health and Wellbeing at Public Health England, said:  “This toolkit contains lots of simple steps for employers of all sizes and sectors to take in supporting better sleep for staff and reducing or preventing work being the cause of sleep deprivation. It’s designed to support leaders, practitioners and line managers to create a workplace culture in which employees understand the need for sleep and recovery, as one strand of an integrated approach to maximising employee health and wellbeing.”

There are minimum legal requirements and obligations on employers – they have a legal duty to manage risks from fatigue and sleep deprivation, irrespective of any individual’s willingness to work extra hours or preference for certain shift patterns. Compliance with the Working Time Regulations alone is not enough to manage the risks of fatigue.

Business in the Community Wellbeing Director Louise Aston commented:  “It is critical for organisations to understand the impact of sleep and recovery for the health and wellbeing of employees, and the implications for productivity. Sleep is still a largely neglected taboo topic for employers fearing they are crossing the line between work and peoples’ personal lives by even talking about it with employees. Gone are the days when it was in fashion to survive with 5 or 6 hours sleep. This toolkit is a great resource for employers to help people start talking about this issue”.

Peter Simpson, Managing Director, Anglian Water commented: “I firmly believe our people are our greatest asset. There is no doubt that a happy and healthy workforce makes a good organisation great, but work should also make us all feel happier, healthier and safer. At Anglian Water we’re working hard to make that a reality.

In our 24/7 economy, poor sleep has an impact right across society and affects millions of people. And because people spend so much time at work, it is an ideal place to offer the support they need to address the issue. I’m delighted that we have been able to support Business in the Community and Public Health England with the production of a highly valuable sleep toolkit, which provides practical information for employers. “

Checklist of Employer Actions:

Be prepared
Understand the importance of sleep quality and recovery to your employees; Inform employees that you recognise the impact of sleep deprivation; Consult employees about their sleep and any problems they experience with getting the right amount and quality of sleep; Understand your legal duty of care to employees and the wider community

Encourage sleep and recovery
Ask employees what will help them, and encourage them to take the lead on implementing change; Identify the threats to good sleep in the workplace and the problems your employees face; Conduct a workplace assessment of good lighting and ventilation; Signpost managers and employees to information about better sleep circumstances and recovery; Know how to access occupational health services; Identify external resources you can use to support sleep and recovery among your employees

Provide knowledge and training
Include training, information and guidance on sleep and recovery for managers and employees in your health and wellbeing strategy; Ensure that training, information and guidance is evidence-based; Ensure that training and guidance is implemented; Collect feedback to ensure training, information and guidance meets needs


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