Three top tips to tackle employee sleep deprivation

Last week it was reported that employers should consider later starting times to address sleep deprivation

According to Paul Kelley, honorary clinical research associate in the Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute at the University of Oxford, standard core working hours are best suited to workers over the age of 55. Kelley spoke to HR magazine and gave this practical advice for tackling sleep deprivation and improving health and wellbeing:

1) Look hard at shift workers within your organisation, and see if there is anything you can do to better accommodate them. “It is widely known that working in shifts presents potential damage to health,” he said. “For example, the probability of getting breast cancer is increased 50% by inappropriate shift work hours.”

2) Consider moving your core working hours back by one hour. Kelley explained that while older workers may prefer an earlier start, younger employees often struggle to function at their best at 9am. He added that this is due to a shift in your internal body clock as you age. “The time shift that you have normally as you age is the same at age 10 and 55 – but in-between your body clock time shifts up to three hours very rapidly just after puberty starts,” he said. “Then it only very, very slowly goes down.”

3) Consider allowing a staggered start to enable employees to come in at the time that works best for their personal rhythm. “This helps staff to improve their performance, health and mood, just by matching their working time to their body clock,” Kelley added. “A staggered start works better with your workers' circadian rhythms.”

Circadian rhythms are patterns within the body that occur over a roughly 24-hour period. They include fluctuations of core body temperature, hormone production, cell regeneration, and brainwave activity. Melatonin – a hormone that regulates sleep – is released in cycles controlled by the levels of daylight the body is exposed to. Kelley believes that working with circadian rhythms can improve performance in the workplace.

Sleep deprivation can result in confusion, memory loss, and headaches, and has been linked to obesity, increased blood pressure and a higher risk of diabetes. It has also been observed to impact mental health, resulting in symptoms similar to depression or psychosis.

“This is a big HR issue,” Kelley told HR magazine. “Employers need to be aware of the potential dangers of the timings that they set for employees.”