Louise’s lowdown: An issue to lose sleep over?

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More than a third (39%) of US employers offer programmes to address sleep disorders, according to data collected for Mercer’s National survey of employer-sponsored health plans, published in November 2015. This compares to 32% in 2014.

Much has been said about the relationship between the growing presence of personal technology and our inability to switch off, which can have a detrimental impact on sleeping patterns. Although there are many upsides to being able to remain connected through tablets and smartphones, not least the flexibility it affords, one of the potential drawbacks is the scope for blurring the line between working hours and downtime. And whether employees are on their mobile device before they go to bed at night checking emails, or whether they are following the news online, playing a game or on social media, links have been drawn between the bright blue light emitted by devices and sleep disruption.

Indeed, in January 2016, Apple announced that its upcoming iOS 9.3 software update is to include a new feature to address this issue; ‘Night shift’ will automatically adjust device displays to the warmer end of the colour spectrum between sunset and sunrise. Yet, while some of the blame for poor quality or lack of sleep could be apportioned to technology, could technology also form part of the solution?

A number of fitness trackers include sleep monitoring functions, there are apps designed to aid relaxation, users can tap into smart alarm technologies, and there are even digital sleep programmes that offer cognitive behavioural therapy techniques. Wearable devices and wellbeing apps, which are becoming a more common element of corporate health and wellbeing strategies, can engage employees with physical activity and healthy eating, which can have a positive affect on sleep.

As organisations take an increasingly holistic approach to workplace health and wellbeing, employees also have greater flexibility to pick and choose the solutions that work best for them. While serious sleep disorders may require access to specialist support, there are a number of ways that employers can help staff get a better night’s sleep, whether through digital or traditional channels. This could include measures such as sharing tips on good sleep hygiene. Or, as Maxis Global Benefits Network suggests in its Sleep: a business case for bedtime report, published in November 2015, hold a ‘Take Back Our Sleep Week’ to educate staff about the science behind sleep and its importance to health and wellbeing.

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Research conducted by RAND Europe with the University of Cambridge, published in Health, wellbeing and productivity in the workplace: A Britain’s Healthiest Company summary report in May 2015, found a 7% difference in increased work impairment due to presenteeism between employees who sleep five hours or less a night and those that sleep an average of eight or more.

With lack of sleep affecting productivity as well as staff health, it seems sleep is an issue employers cannot afford to close their eyes to.