Sleep and Work Performance: Tips for Employers

Promoting Mental Health and Boosting Workplace Performance

1 in 3 American adults don’t get enough sleep. This fact makes it overwhelmingly likely that, in any given workplace, many employees are underslept. This should be a cause of concern for employers. One, because any good employer wants to look out for the health and well-being of their people. And two, because sleep and work performance are related.

Good sleep helps us all protect our mental and physical health. Conversely, if sleep is reduced by as little as 1.5 hours, even for just one night, studies show the result can reduce daytime alertness by as much as 32%. Unfortunately, many employees struggle to get a good night’s sleep. This is doubly true for those who work the night shift.

We all want to look after our employees. So how can employers establish a positive link between employee sleep and work performance? What practices can they implement, and what advice can they give?

The Connection Between Sleep and Work Performance

55% of respondents who maintain a consistent sleep schedule are more satisfied with their job than those who don’t. Why? Because a well-rested employee is charged, motivated, and productive. Good sleep has a huge positive impact on your employee’s health, boosting the immune system, mood, and memory.

Conversely, sleep deprivation in the workplace can have a serious negative impact. According to the National Library of Medicine, a person who lacks sleep experiences effects similar to those experienced when intoxicated. Additionally, lack of sleep is directly linked to poor work attendance and performance, plus a rise in employee healthcare costs. Employees that don’t sleep well are at high risk of getting sick, and in turn, will file for a sick leave more often

Unfortunately, for many, getting a good night’s sleep is a struggle. According to the National Library of Medicine, between 10% and 30% of adults struggle with chronic insomnia

The Impact of Sleep Deprivation on Night Shift Workers

Getting good sleep is especially challenging for night shift workers. Shifting your sleep time to the daylight hours is hard to do. However, there is no avoiding the night shift in sectors such as healthcare, law enforcement, and hospitality.  A survey conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found out that about 16% of full-time workers in the U.S. work evening or overnight shifts

The key driver of the body’s circadian rhythm, or internal clock, is the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) in the brain. Unfortunately, this is badly affected by working the night shift. 

Night workers often struggle to get a consistent block of high-quality sleep during the day. Many simply power through their sleep deprivation, but the consequences of this are numerous.

Research conducted by Harvard University found that without adequate sleep, neurons are overworked, and the brain struggles to function properly. Sleeping experts believe that sleep facilitates mental recovery, which can unlock cognitive benefits related to attention, thinking, and memory. Unfortunately, shift workers are often denied these benefits. 

Employees who sleep less than 7 hours, which is common for shift workers, are more likely to suffer health issues such as cardiovascular diseases and are at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

How Can Shift Workers Optimize Their Sleep?

In many industries, working night shifts cannot be avoided. However, this does not mean that any employee should have to sleep fewer hours. All employees are equally entitled to optimized health and well-being. Moreover, the link between sleep and health is synonymous with the link between sleep and work performance. Here are some tips for your employees who work the night shift.

Avoid Long Commutes

Advise employees to relocate close to the workplace for the best commute options. The added travel time will affect relaxation time following their shift. Living closer to home, they can more easily rest after each working day.

Take Power Naps

Sara C. Mednick, Ph.D., sleep expert and author of Take a Nap! Change Your Life describes how “you can get incredible benefits from 15 to 20 minutes of napping.” A 20-minute power nap, also known as the stage 2 nap, is beneficial for alertness and motor learning. In addition, employees that take power naps during their breaks will be more awake and energetic throughout the day.

Spearhead Support Group for Employees

Talk to employees who are struggling to get adequate sleep after their shift. Advise them to get tips from their colleagues who have overcome the same struggles. Encouraging a supportive workplace environment where employees may exchange experiences will provide each of them with a solid support system.

Encourage Light Exercises During Breaks

Typically, workers like to sit and use their phones during breaks. However, according to a study from the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, replacing time spent sitting with light-intensity physical activity will do wonders for your health. What’s more, a healthy body is a more energetic body and can also help your employees fall asleep faster.

Keep Busy at the Start of Shifts

Make sure to schedule workflows with your team every day carefully. At the beginning of a shift is when employees are brimming with energy. It is best to schedule intensive tasks during this time and schedule lighter tasks toward the end of the day. This way, they can start relaxing at the end of their shift and begin their process of unwinding.

Sleeping During the Daytime: Tips For Workers

The real struggle for night shift workers is sleeping during the day. And the later an employee works, the more critical it becomes to maintain a positive link between sleep and work performance. The good news is that employees can get a good night’s sleep even during the daytime by following these steps:

Wear Dark Sunglasses on the Way Home

Advise employees to wear dark sunglasses when commuting home. There is evidence that, by wearing dark sunglasses during the day, night-shift workers will be able to alter their circadian rhythm and sleep better during the day.

Stick to a Bedtime Schedule

Encourage employees to maintain a strict bedtime routine. Research Harvard University’s Division of Sleep Medicine found that keeping a regular sleep schedule, even during rest days, will maintain the timing of the circadian clock and can help in falling asleep and waking up more easily.

Eliminate Noise and Light From the Bedroom

Noise disrupts and impacts the quality of sleep. It makes awakenings more likely and makes overall sleep shallower. Another significant external factor affecting sleep is light. Light is crucial in maintaining the circadian rhythm and in generating melatonin, the sleep-promoting hormone. 

Advise employees to soundproof and light-proof their bedroom by using black-out curtains and earplugs at bedtime.

Avoid Caffeinated Beverages

In the United States, 90% of adults consume caffeine-infused beverages almost daily. However, research has also shown that caffeine interferes with circadian melatonin rhythms delaying the onset of sleep if consumed close to bedtime. Advise employees to refrain from drinking caffeine towards the end of their shift and near bedtime.

Avoid Alcohol

Many people like to unwind at the end of a long day with a glass of wine or beer. However, even modest amounts of alcohol affects certain physiological processes that occur during sleep and reduces the overall quality of rest. Therefore, encourage employees to avoid alcohol near bedtime.

A Well-Rested Employee is A Happy (and Productive) Employee

We humans have lost the wisdom of genuinely resting and relaxing. We worry too much. We don’t allow our bodies to heal, and we don’t allow our minds and hearts to heal.

Thich Nhat Hanh

Sleep and work performance go hand in hand. Employees who get adequate sleep are happier, more engaged, and more creative. 

The effects of not getting enough sleep can be highly disruptive to both psychological health and professional performance. Employers looking to treat their staff well and maximize performance simultaneously cannot ignore the relationship between sleep and work productivity. Employees working the night shift require special attention and may need targeted interventions to maintain a healthy approach to sleep. Unlock your employee’s potential and ensure that they are well taken care of.

Check out Aduro’s employee well-being solution, which includes sleep programs and Human Performance Coaches trained to support sleep issues.