John O’Reilly: Why wellbeing programmes should address sleep

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why sleep should be part of workplace wellbeing programmes

200,000 working days are lost each year due to insufficient sleep. It is estimated to cost the UK economy over £30 billion a year, equivalent to almost two per cent of GDP.

Only 35 per cent of any company’s workforce is getting good, regular sleep and as a nation we are sleeping less and less – over 30 per cent of us only sleep five-to-six hours per night. The fast-changing world of work and the constant demands it places on employers and employees means that our grasp of employee well-being can never stand still and sleep is becoming a big issue.

Less than 5 hours sleep is equivalent to being drunk with alcohol intoxication in a driving simulator. Sleep deprivation leads to cognitive impairment (unclear thinking), poor work performance with impaired decision making, lack of innovation and creative thinking, fatigue and risk of accidents at work and when driving. Major industrial and road accidents have frequent been attributed to lack of sleep

Improved sleep leads to improved patience, better mood, improved relations with colleagues and ability to concentrate for longer. Adults ideally need 7-8 hours sleep – (5 x 1.5 hours cycles of deep and REM) to maintain normal brain (cognitive) function.

Sleep problems

Insomnia, sleep apnoea, restlessness or simply problems switching off, all can be diagnosed and addressed speedily and cost effectively as part of a wellbeing programme.
As our population grows increasingly sedentary and average BMI increases, the NHS sleep services are taking up to 6 months for a diagnosis, involving multiple appointments.
However, there is online CBT to counter insomnia, and good sleep practice programmes (TweakSleep Challenge). Once diagnosed, sleep apnoea can be treated by the gold-standard CPAP (continuous positive airways pressure) and the monitored remotely. It is estimated that about 1.5 million people in the UK suffer from Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA), although doctors warn most people will have never been formally diagnosed. One third of UK adults believe they suffer from sleepless nights and insomnia

The bigger picture cost

Taking the American example – there is an estimated 29.4m people in the US suffering from OSA, 23.5m are undiagnosed. Annual per patient diagnosis and treatment costs are 67 per cent less than leaving patients undiagnosed. For example, OSA suffers cost $26.2 m in motor vehicle accidents ($20m attributed to commercial vehicle accidents) and $6.5 million in workplace accidents. Loss of productivity is set at $86.9 m According to the American Academy on Sleep Medicine, diagnosing and treating all 29.4M Americans with OSA could save $100.1 billion

A legal duty

The Employer – Employers have a legal duty to manage risk from fatigue and sleep deprivation.

The Employee – Employees have a duty not to drive if excessively sleepy.

What can an employer do?

Employers can help improve productivity and satisfaction at work by educational initiatives to help workers identify sleep problems and improve time management and sleep hygiene, leading to better sleep and performance both at work and at home. Simple questionnaires can identify common sleep problems including insomnia, sleep apnoea and restless legs, for which specific help and treatment is readily available. Though sleep and recovery might be a new topic to consider, everyone understands the benefits of a night of improved sleep. Health and wellbeing programmes can focus on the impact of sleep deprivation across organisations and help employees sleep better and recover more effectively after periods of intense work.

A company sleep case study – Belron

Belron is the world’s leading vehicle glass repair and replacement group. Home to 29,000 employees in over 30 countries and 5 continents. As part of a wellbeing programme, Sleephubs was asked to monitor one group of the workforce. The staff were fit and active so out of the 250 staff offered the service, only 48 felt they wished to complete the survey. Based on the results, 22 were then recommended to take part in a 24-day sleep programme called The TweakSleep Challenge. This programme helps people re-learn how to sleep well again and become engaged and more confident, better sleepers. Participation is very simple and took only a few minutes each day. All activity was carried out by the employees in their own time with each participant submitting a quick and simple email sleep diary each morning. This was then assessed by a sleep expert who identifies the main issues and then a sleep coach discusses with the participant, what “tweak” they need to adopt as routine, followed by a fortnight of practice. Within two weeks, on average, all were getting an extra half an hour of sleep each night, feeling better and improving their sleep quality by +10 per cent without spending more time in bed. Some people achieved an extra hour per night or more.

Interested in wellbeing? We recommend the Workplace Wellbeing and Stress Forum 2019.

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About John O'Reilly

Dr John O’Reilly, Consultant Physician and European accredited Sleep Specialist working for Sleephubs.

John O’Reilly has been a Regional Lead Consultant in Respiratory and Sleep Medicine for over 30 years. He trained in General and Respiratory medicine in Cambridge, London, Edinburgh and Bristol, and trained in Sleep Medicine and polysomnography at Stanford, USA. He is an accredited European Expert Sleep Specialist.

He has a special interest in Sleep Breathing Disorders as well as Occupational Sleep Disorders. He was National Clinical Advisor to the NICE COPD guidelines and has been an adviser on sleep management to National Amateur and Professional Sports teams and Primary Care Clinical Commissioners.

He has promoted education in Sleep Medicine as a member of the British Sleep Society executive, co-organiser of the International Sleep Medicine Course, speaker at National and International conferences and lecturer on Sleep Medicine courses at Liverpool and Manchester Universities.

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