Sleep deprivation overlooked in mental health awareness

UK employees who overwork are damaging their sleep patterns and risking long-term poor mental health.

Almost a fifth (19.9%) of England’s workers put in significant overtime at work each week, according to new research by manufacturing company Blinds Direct.

The knock-on effect of overworking is often less time for life admin, relaxation and sleep, which can lead to poor mental health.

The damage to mental health caused by poor sleep is especially concerning given the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) estimated some 828,000 workers were affected by work-related stress, depression, or anxiety across the UK in 2019 and 2020.

As a result, the HSE predicted 17.9 million working days have been lost.

Sleep science coach at SleepOcean, Alex Savy, told HR magazine one of the biggest areas of our lives overworking can affect is sleep.

He said: “Not only could employees sacrifice hours of rest to catch up on work tasks, but they also may end up losing sleep worrying about work-related issues.

“When sleep deprivation comes into the spotlight, we get even more things to worry about, one of them being mental health, of course.”

Savy said poor sleep can affect hormonal regulation, which may lead to an increased risk of mental disorders and psychological distress.

“Chronic sleep deprivation can impair one’s thinking abilities and emotional regulation. Plus, those who don’t get an adequate amount of healthy rest are more likely to suffer from anxiety or depression,” he said.

Workers in central London were found to be the most likely to experience sleep disruption due to longer working hours.

They are reportedly the highest proportion of workers putting in unpaid overtime at almost a quarter (24.4%), compared with just 14% in the least overworked city, Newcastle.

Shockingly, this equates to 246,440 employees working above their base contract in London, with the average amount of weekly paid and unpaid overtime equalling 8.4 hours.

Thomas Croft, HR manager at Blinds Direct, said it is evident getting a good night’s sleep is needed to protect the mental health of the UK's workforce.

He told HR magazine: “With an imminent return to pre-pandemic life, and people returning to work after a long period of working from home, it’s crucial that we prioritise our sleep schedule and ensure our homes are conducive to a high quality of sleep.

“Whether it’s by investing in blackout blinds, or a new mattress, or limiting screen time before bed, there are small and easy changes that can be made to every routine.”

Savy recommended HR creates an atmosphere in the workplace in which team members aren’t afraid to share to help support the wellbeing of their employees.

He said: “Mental issues are often surrounded by stigma, and it’s important to help your employees feel like they can open up about anything that’s bothering them without fearing being judged.

“You can achieve that through regular and open communication with your team members.”

Savy said another important factor HR must take into consideration when caring for employee mental health, is the employees’ personal rhythms.

“If you can, make adjustments in your staff schedules according to what’s more comfortable for them.

“After all, work is one of the main sources of stress that can affect one’s mental health, so to help your team members not dread the deadlines or avert burning out, it’s important to learn more about their personal rhythms and, if possible, adjust your demands accordingly," he said.

This piece forms part of HR magazine's special bulletin on Mental Health Awareness Week. Sign up to make sure you don't miss any future bulletins.