AccessEAP blog

The key to being more productive at work? Sleep on it

Sleep

Businesses dedicate significant funds to initiatives that drive employee performance, but one basic, yet crucial element may be overlooked, warn leading workplace psychologists. A study has shown that 39.8 per cent of Australians [1] are not getting enough sleep and that sleep deprivation is equating to productivity losses of $17.9 billion.

“We’ve become an ‘always-on’ society and while it may seem like a win for businesses, what they gain in hours is lost inefficiency,” says Marcela Slepica, our Clinical Director at AccessEAP.

“Keeping our phones and laptops within arm’s reach at all times to work at any given time has a significant impact on our mental and physical health. In this fast-paced environment, something has to give, and for many it’s sleep. We are in a dangerous cycle of not getting all of the work done because we’re sleep-deprived, and not sleeping because we’re not getting all of the work done,” Marcela continues.

Lack of sleep negatively affects our ability to think clearly, learn, concentrate and retain important information, which affects efficiency in the workplace. In a recent study, employees who reported ‘almost always’ feeling tired during the day had 4.4 times more productivity loss than those who reported ‘almost never’ feeling tired [2].

Insufficient sleep also impacts our mood and emotional wellbeing. Whilst extreme lack of sleep can induce serious psychological effects such as paranoia and memory loss, more subtle consequences such as anger and impatience can also prove challenging in a professional environment. Teamwork and cooperation play an essential role in business success, so when short tempers flare, relationships between colleagues become strained. 84% of people feel more irritable as a result of poor sleep [3], and with a volatile work atmosphere, staff members can become disengaged and negative, which contribute to poor team culture and low morale.

Inadequate sleep also kills more than 3,000 Australians each year [4] due to workplace and road accidents, and the total cost of work-related injuries and fatalities as a result of poor sleep is estimated at $2.25 billion [5] per year. These risks of fatigue are more prominent in businesses where shifts are common or employees are on call, such as factories, constructions sites and hospitals. In these industries, fatigue-related errors could have serious consequences for not only the workers but others around them.

Whilst employees should take responsibility for their sleep patterns, there are things that companies can do to help ensure their staff are rested and ready to work.

“Try to make sure that staff are exposed to natural light, this activates the circadian rhythm, the natural 24-hour cycle that regulates our sleep/wake cycle, and keeps our internal body clock in balance ensuring that we are ready for sleep at night. Disrupting the circadian rhythm has direct links to health problems such as obesity and diabetes. Lack of natural sunlight can also lead to depression, especially in the winter months,” says Marcela.

Here at AccessEAP, we offer advice that employers can give to staff to help them achieve a good night sleep and ensure positivity and productivity the next day.

  • Regular sleep patterns, establishing a sleep routine or ritual is about what you do leading up to a set bedtime and also having a set wake up time.
  • A warm bath or shower before bed can trick the body into relaxation by loosening the muscles.
  • For optimum ability to fall asleep your bedroom should be dark and comfortable with moderate to cool temperature and importantly free of electronic devices.
  • A helpful approach for a busy mind is to write notes/lists before bedtime, to help calm the mind. Listening to soft music can assist with calming. Do not allow yourself to ‘thrash around' for more than 15-20 minutes before getting up. There are many apps available to help.
  • Spicy food, alcohol, caffeine, exercise just before bed, all have a detrimental effect on sleep.
  • Muscle spasms or cramps can keep people awake; magnesium may help to alleviate symptoms. Incorporate pulses, nuts, spinach and potatoes into your diet to make sure you’re reaching the recommended levels.
  • If you regularly wake up during the night and have difficulty falling back to sleep, it may be helpful to get up, drink some water or a soothing camomile tea, sit and gaze at the stars or quietly breathe, rather than lying in bed tense and frustrated. Once you are feeling soothed and settled, return to bed.
  • Meditation and deep breathing can be helpful before sleeping to still the mind.
  • In some situations, no matter what self- relaxation techniques are used sleep is not possible. For medical conditions such as hormone fluctuations please consult with your GP. Alternatively, seeing a clinical professional to discuss the wider work/life impacts on sleep and how to manage them, may be of assistance.

[1] Deloitte Access Economics 2017

[2] American Journal of Health Promotion 2018

[3] Hult International Business School 2016

[4] Inquiry into Sleep Health Awareness in Australia 16 October 2018

[5] The Cost of Inadequate Sleep among On-Call Workers in Australia: A Workplace Perspective 16 February 2018