When COVID-19 hit around this time last year, most employees had to work from home. One of the results of forced remote work is the increase in the number of people suffering from insomnia. One in four reported sleepless nights, and Google searches for the word “insomnia” increased significantly, with searches most often peaking in the early hours of the morning at 3:00 am.
While COVID restrictions may decrease, a natural return to healthy, regular sleep-wake cycles in a new hybrid work environment is not guaranteed. In this article, I discuss the future of sleep in a post-pandemic workplace and why employers need to provide workplace support to help sleep better.
“Coronasomnia” – Why the Nation Has Insomnia.
The pandemic and social isolation have unsettled the daily routines that normally serve as timepieces for our natural body clocks. Keeping track of the time and even the day can be difficult without our usual time anchors like driving to the office, going to the gym after work, or picking up kids from school.
Research shows that it can take four days for an hour of sleep loss to fully recover. So if we “miss” the recommended 7 to 9 hours over time, a sleep deficit arises. This makes it difficult to catch up on sleep and increases the likelihood of sleep deprivation symptoms.
Uncertainty also plays an important role in influencing sleep as it often causes anxiety that makes sleep unsettling as a racing mind keeps the body moving. When will i get my vaccine? When can I travel or see my family? How long do bans last? So much was (and is) unknown.
The effects of sleep deprivation on employee productivity and physical and emotional health
Persistently poor sleep has a major impact on employee productivity. The UK economy is estimated to cost an estimated £ 37 billion a year. Studies show that sleep deprivation leads to poor concentration and slower reaction times, which can lead to accidents and costly mistakes. From an emotional health perspective, lack of sleep leads to higher levels of stress hormones in our bodies, which in turn can increase feelings of fear, anger, and depression.
Even if you get enough sleep at night, that poor quality sleep can make you feel tired and unmotivated in the morning, with less energy and focus. 1-2 bad days of sleep per week increases the risk of employee absenteeism by 171 percent.
Physical symptoms of long-term sleep deprivation can manifest themselves in a weakened immune system, causing frequent infections and colds. Without getting enough sleep, your body will produce fewer cytokines, a type of protein that works to fight infection and inflammation and effectively reduce the body’s immune response.
Long-term sleep deprivation is also linked to more serious health problems, such as: B. an increased risk of certain types of cancer, heart disease, ulcers and gastrointestinal problems.
Will we sleep better in a “hybrid work environment”?
Even as the restrictions gradually relax, employees’ sleep patterns may not return to normal as more organizations consider a “hybrid” work environment. Many companies already have flexible work policies, but some will have a permanent mixed work model in which employees continue to work from home for a few days a week.
Although emotions like anxiety and insecurity can subside, which can have a positive impact on sleep, some persistent factors can continue to negatively impact sleep as more employees continue to work from home.
For remote workers, there is a persistent risk of “leavism” who is unable to switch off or catch up on work outside of contractual working hours. This blurring of the boundaries of working from home can contaminate our sleeping environment. For example, the bedroom, which doubles as a work area, may become the norm as more employees participate in “bedmin” (finishing administrative tasks in bed).
Supporting the future of employee sleep
Employers can reduce some of the health and business risks associated with sleep disorders by making practical changes to employees’ work schedules. Avoid scheduling too many early calls and virtual meetings and frequent shifts. For those who work night shifts, if they are spinning, do so in a forward rotation (morning, evening, night).
Establish work time expectations and consider the benefits of having a formal sleep policy in place for your business. Offer virtual conversations and invite health professionals to discuss the effects of insomnia and provide support to those who suffer from insomnia. For example, you could hold a seminar on how exercise or management of unhelpful thinking can have a positive effect on sleep quality.
Employers might also consider offering cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to employees. Whether someone has had chronic insomnia before or whether the pandemic has occurred recently, it is an evidence-based treatment that has been shown to be effective on a range of comfort problems, including sleep.
By providing all resources for training and self-help of the workforce specifically for sleep (e.g. a digital online platform), an open dialogue about sleep problems is created. This makes it easier to develop effective support plans and enables employees and managers to understand the benefits of setting healthy boundaries for better work-life balance.
From Gosia Bowling, Lead to Improve and Prevent Emotional Wellbeing, Nuffield Health.