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Employers must do more to tackle sleep deprivation

Public Health England and BITC have launched a new guide to help companies tackle work-related insomnia

The 'Sleep and Recovery Toolkit', a joint project by Public Health England and Business in The Community (BITC), aims to give employers guidance on how to deal with sleep-deprived workers.

Approximately one in three people suffer with insomnia in the UK, and a lack of sleep has been associated with high blood pressure, heart disease and increased risk of injury. Sleep deprivation can also be detrimental to productivity: with an estimated 200,000 working days lost per year (at a cost of £30 billion) to lack of sleep.

Justin Varney, national lead for adult health and wellbeing at Public Health England, said that sleep deprivation and insomnia must be taken seriously. “When we’re talking about sleep deprivation we’re not just talking about staying up too late occasionally and feeling tired the next day; we’re referring to sustained lack of sleep over a period, which can be extremely damaging to someone’s health,” he told HR magazine.

“We know that while sleep problems can be caused by a poor work/life balance, it’s not always easy for employers to know how to ensure their employees are getting the rest they need. This is especially true when an organisation is restructuring or going through other forms of stress," he said.

“All organisations are different, and not all companies will be able to provide as much for employees as others. We’ve provided a lot of different options for employers to suit the needs of their organisation.”

Varney added that while the causes of sleep deprivation can be complex, it can often be helped by straightforward moves such as ensuring shift workers have adequate rest in-between busy periods through planning rotas correctly.

The guide includes a section on how employers can spot the signs of sleep deprivation among employees who may find it difficult to bring up lack of sleep with their employer.

“There are simple steps that employers can take to improve an employee’s quality of sleep," Varney added. "It has to start with having a conversation about it. While the dangers of sleep deprivation might seem alarming, we want to get across that it's never too late to change your habits and improve your health. If employers follow our advice they will see a difference.”

The toolkit's recommendations to employers include:

  • Ask employees what will help them, and encourage them to take the lead on implementing change
  • Identify the threats to good sleep in the workplace and the problems your employees face
  • Conduct a workplace assessment of good lighting and ventilation
  • Signpost managers and employees to information about better sleep circumstances and recovery
  • Know how to access occupational health services
  • Identify external resources you can use to support sleep and recovery among your employees
  • Include training and guidance on sleep and recovery for managers and employees in your health and wellbeing strategy
  • Ensure that information is evidence-based
  • Ensure that training and guidance is implemented
  • Collect feedback to ensure training, information and guidance meets staff needs