How Businesses Can Improve Their Workers’ Sleep

As many as 67% of adults report sleep disturbances at least once every night, which may lead to sleep deprivation.

Key takeaways:
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    Around 67% of adults report difficulty sleeping.
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    The U.S. loses around 1.2 million working days due to employees’ insufficient sleep.
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    Employers can make changes to the working environment, encourage employees to make behavioural changes, and discourage technology use when employees should be winding down their day.

In the short term, putting sleep on hold may help employees hit their deadlines, but it is an inadequate – and possibly dangerous – long-term strategy. Much research has shown that sleep is critical to overall performance and well-being. A lack of sleep negatively affects a person's body and mind and along with their emotions, temperament, and self-control.

A lack of sleep often has a direct impact on workplace performance, too. People's ability to learn, focus, and retain information is greatly influenced by how well-rested they are.

How does sleep deprivation affect businesses?

Statistics are simply scary. This study shows that on an annual basis, the U.S. loses an equivalent of around 1.2 million working days due to insufficient sleep. This is followed by Japan, which on average yields 600,000 working days per year. The U.K. and Germany both lose just over 200,000 working days. Canada loses around 80,000 working days.

The empirical findings of this study suggest that workers who sleep less than six hours per day report, on average, about a 2.4 percentage point higher productivity loss due to absenteeism than workers sleeping between seven to nine hours per day.

On average, those sleeping between six to seven hours still report about a 1.5 percentage point higher productivity loss than those sleeping seven to nine hours. To put these numbers into perspective, assuming there are 250 working days in a given year, a worker sleeping less than six hours loses around six working days due to absenteeism per year, more than a worker sleeping seven to nine hours. On average, a person sleeping six to seven hours loses about 3.7 working days per year.

What can employers do?

It has always been taught that people can learn how to switch off your brain, relax, and get fully rested before your next workday. But there are two sides to this story. A workplace should take some responsibility, too, and help workers improve their well-being.

How can companies encourage employees to get enough rest instead of damaging both parties? I want to share several tactics organisations can use to help promote a sleep-first culture. Implementing all of these ideas may not be possible but adding a few will definitely help.

An excellent way to start is the working environment.

Environmental tips

Access to natural light. Encourage employees to spend more time in the daylight, and possibly eat breakfast or lunch outside. Set up walk-and-talk meetings outside. Of course, provide spaces next to windows or natural light sources, and allow workers to adjust the light in their environment, if possible, based on the available office space.

Place the monitors above eye level. It will not only improve alertness and focus, but it will save them from neck and back pain.

Have nap rooms. Provide nap rooms or alternative spaces with comfortable furniture and individual blankets so employees can rest during the workday. Some companies use "dawn simulators" instead of alarm clocks, which awaken people by slowly increasing light and sound levels. Consider calming music or white noise to help them to relax. Also, provide an option of aromatherapy in these rooms, as certain scents, such as lavender, have been found to help induce sleep (within scent policy restrictions).

Behavioural nudges

Let's get some science involved! Drawing from behavioural science, organisations can leverage the following tactics to promote changes in habits among the workers:

Try inspiring workers with commitment tools like a sleep pledge. Research has found that when individuals publicly and explicitly promise something, they are more likely to pursue it. Think about having employees take a sleep pledge. Have them set a time they commit to getting into bed and/or turning off technology at a specific time. These pledges have been proven effective, even if implemented for one week, so it's worth giving a shot.

Encouragement with social proof. Overworking and sacrificing sleep over meeting your deadlines have been praised for long enough, and people should put a stop to that. You should provide employees with models of people prioritising sleep in your organisation. Moreover, social proof tends to be its most powerful when people can relate to the role model – and potentially better than the person they are trying to influence. Social proof works in many other scenarios, for example, you are more likely to buy something if you have seen that a person you can relate to has purchased it. Thus, modeling should occur at all levels of the organisation – not just at the C-suite level.

Technology use

Encourage no communication after hours. Limit employees' ability to send or receive emails after business hours within their geography. For example, France recently passed a law requiring businesses with more than 50 employees to establish policies with hours during which employees are not allowed to send or respond to emails. Maybe it's a bit harsh, but employers must somehow stop those workaholics and encourage them to get some sleep.

Discourage after-hours video calls. To eliminate the wakefulness effect of the blue screens, set up technology to audio-only for after-hours. If your employee has to do global calls, this must happen outside of regular regional work hours. Encourage them to have meetings on the phone instead of taking the call on their computers.

Suggest using apps that block out the notifications during the day and night, like the Freedom app, to avoid distractions from work and help get better sleep at night.

For a while now, when it comes to working, sleep has been perceived as either a "necessary inconvenience" or, even worse, something only "for the weak." So, I hope these recommendations can help the leaders not only talk about the importance of the company's "vibe" or "healthy environment" but actually help their workers to become well-rested and productive.