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How Poor Sleep Is Killing Performance at Work

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There are many reasons why you might be getting less sleep than usual. Work-related stress, illness, money worries, and personal loss are just a handful of issues that can keep us awake at night. 

If you’re struggling to sleep, you’re not alone. NHS Choices estimates that one in three people in the UK are affected by insomnia – and, with the additional pressures brought by the pandemic, it’s only getting worse. 

Leading commercial workspace provider Bruntwood Works teamed up with medical experts at Push Doctor to answer the question: How much can losing sleep hurt your work performance?

How much sleep do you need?

Dr Tom Micklewright, associate medical director at Push Doctor, says: ‘Adults should be aiming for at least seven to nine hours of sleep per night in order for their bodies to function at their optimum levels. Obtaining at least seven hours of good quality sleep every night allows our bodies to rest and repair our muscle and tissue, helps to boost our immune systems, and can improve our mood and mental health.’

The cost of insufficient sleep quickly builds up. According to RAND Europe, the annual cost of lost sleep in the UK is about £30 billion, with 200,000 working days lost each year (NHS Live Well). 

Shift workers are among the worst affected: 3.2 million night workers in the UK (Trades Union Congress) are up to 30% more at risk of injury than those on daytime shifts (Institution of Occupational Safety and Health).

But it’s not only work that’s damaged by a lack of sleep. The long-term health risks of sleep deprivation are concerning too. RAND Europe found that adults sleeping fewer than six hours a night have a 13% higher mortality risk than adults who sleep at least seven hours. Additionally, One You found that sleep-deprived adults are 30% more likely to be obese.

Signs you’re not getting enough sleep

Dr Tom Micklewright says: ‘A tell-tale sign of the lack of a good night’s sleep is that you regularly wake up feeling tired and your body gets tired throughout your day.’

In the context of work, not getting enough sleep manifests itself in several smaller ways. When these add up, it can take a real toll on your performance. Watch out for the following: 

  • Decreased communication – Speaking with others becomes a real effort so you tend to avoid it, which leads to important information being missed.
  • Deterioration in performance – You don’t complete your work as efficiently as you usually do and you’re missing deadlines more often.
  • Poor concentration – You’re checking your phone more often than usual and find it difficult to stay focused on one task.
  • Poor memory – You forget important details quickly and you often have to ask people to remind you of what was agreed.
  • Bad mood – You start resenting being at work and you’re less patient with others than you normally are.
  • Greater risk-taking behaviour – You often commit to things without fully thinking them through, putting unnecessary pressure on yourself and your colleagues.
  • Inability to make necessary adjustments – Changes to your schedule or work are more difficult to process, so you find yourself pushing back on decisions more often.
  • Increased caffeine intake – Your daily coffee tally creeps a little higher each day.
  • Increased sickness – You call in sick a lot or find yourself powering through a lot more rough days than you’re used to.

5 easy ways to get more sleep

Think you may be sleep-deprived? The good news is that, in most cases, it’s easily remedied. Follow these five simple steps to reintroduce that good night’s sleep back into your life.

  • Have a fixed bedtime – Going to bed at the same time every night helps get your body accustomed to winding down at a certain time. Dr Micklewright says: ‘We’re creatures of habit. Our internal body clock, or circadian rhythm, controls our ability to sleep but it needs training through repetition. Set a fixed time, every day, for going to bed and waking, even at weekends.’
  • Get regular exercise – Even if you feel mentally exhausted at the end of the day, you’ll find it difficult to relax if your body hasn’t worked out the stress physically. Getting some exercise straight after work is an effective way to decompress from your day; the rush of endorphins is a massive mood-booster too.
  • Keep your eyes off your phone – You might enjoy scrolling through your feeds in the evenings, but the blue light from your phone is hurting your sleep cycle. Dr Micklewright says: ‘Bright lights prevent us from producing melatonin, the hormone responsible for making us sleep. Try to leave your electronic devices in another room and use an eye mask if necessary.’
  • Cut the caffeine and late-night eating – If you’re often tired, you might feel more of an urge to eat more at night. Don’t. Your body struggles to digest while you’re sleeping, meaning you’ll wake up feeling sluggish. Dr Micklewright says: ‘To avoid indigestion before you sleep, eat your evening meal at least three hours before you decide to go to bed. Steer clear of caffeine in the afternoons, as its stimulating effect can take up to five hours to wear off.’
  • Don’t lie in bed awake for too long – ‘If you can’t get to sleep, do not stew in bed, else your mind will start to associate your bedroom with being frustrated.’ Instead, Dr Micklewright suggests: ‘If you can’t fall asleep after 20 mins, get out of bed, do some light activity, like ironing, then try again.’ If you have lots of thoughts keeping you awake, it can be therapeutic to write them down. Getting your worries out on paper means you can come back to them in the morning instead.

Put good rest to the test

Workplace experts Bruntwood Works have put the importance of sleep to the test by focusing on the wellness of their customers. This includes installing sleep pods into their office space at their Bloc building for you to get the twenty winks you may have missed out on or to just relax in between a busy workday. 

Every environment within its walls has been created to consider the well-being of its inhabitants, with green and growing spaces throughout, a basement fitness studio, technology to optimise air quality, and even a sleep pod and chill-out areas to recharge batteries. Bloc also features a cinema room, spaces for community pop-up events, and co-working spaces to help foster collaboration.

Whether it’s at work or in your personal life, the importance of good sleep cannot be overstated. Getting enough sleep starts with us making a conscious decision to prioritise it and put steps in place to make it happen. With the right routine and a healthy mindset, you can wake up each day feeling refreshed and be highly productive in your work. 

The best part? It’s a positive cycle: a great day’s work leads to a good night’s sleep. How’s that for a life hack?

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