Sleep: part of the wellbeing matrix

Sam Webb

Traditionally, employee workplace health issues have been couched in terms of health and safety at work, and the employer’s duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of its employees. While the law remains the same, in recent years the language and focus have changed and softened. The emphasis now is on the importance of employee wellbeing with many employers gently encouraging their staff towards healthy diets, exercise and meditation. Matthew Walker, author of the 2017 monograph, Why We Sleep, argues that we should do the same with our night-time habits, and that sleep should be part of this ‘wellbeing’ matrix.

How much sleep do you get? If the answer is less than seven hours a night, then, according to Walker, you probably aren’t getting enough. But is he right? Do a few extra hours really make that much of a difference?

The short answer is yes. Walker recommends eight hours a night. While not everyone can get or wants eight hours sleep, there is little doubt that not having enough sleep (whatever the magic number is) impacts on mood, emotional stability, memory and cognitive performance. From an employer’s perspective, this translates into poor performance at work. Tired employees cut corners, miss important deadlines, irritate (and are irritable), are more likely to develop long term mental health problems and take longer at simple tasks.

So what can employers do? Of course, they cannot dictate how much sleep their employees should have, nor can they monitor their employees’ sleeping practices. They can, however, raise awareness of the importance of sleep in the same way that is done for nutrition and exercise. This sends a strong message about the culture of a workplace in that it recognises the importance of the health and wellbeing of all its employees.

Thinking that this might be a good idea for my own workplace, I searched the intranet in the expectation that I would only find material on other aspects of health and wellbeing. I couldn’t believe that a wealth of resources already existed, including the role sleep plays in stress management, top tips on how to get a good night’s sleep, and even a sleep health toolkit.

For those employers who want to promote sleep or mental wellness more generally, the perfect opportunity may come sooner rather than you think; Thursday, 10th October 2019 is World Mental Health Day.