Modern-day living does not always embrace the need for adequate sleep. Sleep is however essential for survival. If you want the best performance from your employees, it is vital that both you and your employees understand the fundamental importance of sleep.


Understanding sleep


We’ve all felt the negative effects of sleep deprivation.

Just one night of burning the midnight oil, flying across continents, or tending to the needs of a newborn may leave you feeling short tempered, anxious and unable to focus.

But did you know that long-term sleep deprivation can have profound effects on your physical health?

Modern-day living does not always embrace the need for adequate sleep. Shift work, tight deadlines, chronic stress and the increased amount of time spent in front of screens all impact sleep negatively. If you want the best performance from your employees, it is vital that both you and your employees understand the fundamental importance of sleep.

So why is sleep so important, and how can one promote healthy sleep habits at work?

Why is sleep important?


On the individual level, sleep is essential for survival.

Along with exercise and nutrition, sleep completes the triad of optimal health and wellbeing. Lack of sleep directly affects how we think and feel. While the short-term impacts are more noticeable, chronic sleep deprivation can heighten the long-term risk of physical and mental health problems.

Research in the area of “sleep medicine” has grown profoundly over the last decades. Studies have found that sleep deprivation impacts metabolism, hormone regulation, and gene expression. Moreover, research has identified a clear relationship between inadequate sleep and a wide range of disorders including:

  • Hypertension
  • Obesity and type-2 diabetes
  • Impaired immune functioning
  • Cardiovascular disease and arrhythmias
  • Neurodegeneration and dementia
  • Mood disorders and loneliness.

On a company/business level, the effects of sleep deprivation can, moreover, impact productivity, organisational unity and economic liability.

As noted by Charles King from the Stellenbosch School of Business:

Lack of sleep is not only related to workplace issues such as absenteeism, lack of productivity, poor work performance, and accidents – which have a direct cost impact on a business – but insufficient sleep has been directly linked with seven of the 15 leading causes of death.

People are often not aware of their accumulating sleep deficits. While these deficits can take a toll on key cognitive functions (working memory, cognitive speed and accuracy) required for optimal performance, they also impact our psychological wellbeing. As we become more emotionally and socially sensitive when we are sleep deprived, our emotional and psychosocial interpretation of events can be skewed. This does not only exacerbate our stress levels, but impacts our ability to work in teams or with clients.

Finally, as sleep-deprived employees are at higher risk of life-threatening chronic illness and disability, they are also more likely to cause workplace accidents and be absent more often. This in turn can result in considerable economic liability when left unchecked.

How much sleep is healthy?


Sleep requirements may differ according to each individual. Variables such as age, health, activity levels and genetics may play a role in setting individualised sleep requirements.

Moreover, as with too little sleep, too much sleep can be detrimental to your health. Over-sleeping has been found to raise the risk of chronic diseases, such as coronary heart disease, diabetes, anxiety and obesity in adults aged 45 and older.

A general rule of thumb, as set by the National Sleep Foundation in the United States, is that adults between 24-64 years of age require 7-9 hours of sleep per night.

However, it is not just about quantity, but also quality. Signs of poor sleep quality include feeling sleepy or tired even after getting enough sleep, repeatedly waking up during the night, and having symptoms of a sleep disorder (such as snoring or gasping for air).

Better sleep habits (sleep hygiene) may improve the quality of your sleep.

What are some good sleep habits?


Healthy sleep habits can considerably improve the quality of your sleep and help normalise your sleeping patterns. The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States, for example, lists the following habits:

  • Be consistent by going to bed at the same time each night and getting up at the same time each morning, including on the weekends
  • Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, relaxing, and at a comfortable temperature
  • Remove electronic devices, such as TVs, computers and smart phones, from the bedroom
  • Avoid large meals, caffeine, and alcohol before bedtime
  • Get some exercise. Being physically active during the day can help you fall asleep more easily at night.

Healthy sleep habits to improve your bottom line


King stresses the importance of educating employees on the health benefits of healthy sleep norms, as well as the health risks of not getting enough good-quality sleep.

By bringing sleep into the bounds of corporate wellness, companies can more comprehensively meet the needs of their employees on an individual level, while helping to boost productivity and organisational health on the company level.

A workforce that is chronically deprived of sleep is unable to perform to the best of their abilities. Productivity suffers and human resource management becomes more difficult. That is why it is in any employer’s interest to promote better sleep patterns among their staff.

One approach is to cultivate a healthy sleep culture at work. This can be done by setting up sleep workshops and teaching employees about sleep hygiene, how much sleep they require, and how sleep affects their productivity. Another approach is to launch a sleep challenge, to encourage maximum restfulness and learn more about the effects of sleep on your workforce.

Sleep is as, if not more, important as nutrition and physical exercise. By understanding the importance of sleep and cultivating a culture of good sleep in your organisation, you not only improve the lives of your individual employees but ultimately impact your bottom line for the better.


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