Sleep plays a vital role in good health and well-being throughout your life. Getting enough quality sleep at the right times can help protect your mental health, physical health, quality of life, and safety. .
Numerous surveys have found that people in Britain are sleeping badly. A report in October 2019 by Loughborough University (commissioned by the bed company Dreams) found that three in four employees in the UK suffer persistent sleep problems, and over half (54 per cent) are unable to stay awake in the day.
A quarter of respondents report their sleep problems prevent them from completing work they had planned, and mean they struggle to work fast and maintain quality. On average, employees in the UK take two sick days a year to catch up on sleep.
A Rand study into the economic effects of sleep deprivation in February 2019 found that the insufficient and poor quality sleep of UK workers was losing the country 1.86 per cent of its GDP, or 200,000 working days each year. According to the authors of the report, if people who currently sleep under six hours began sleeping just six to seven hours, this could add £24.5bn to the UK economy.
How likely is it that this social phenomenon is affecting British business – and what’s behind it?
“[Our] study showed there is a direct link between bad sleep and poor productivity – both in terms of reduced employee output and increased sick days,” says Professor Kevin Morgan, author of the Loughborough University report. “By contrast, those who felt their productivity had been above average rated their sleep quality higher and fell asleep 5 minutes faster.”
Professor Morgan identifies a “sleep stigma” in workplaces, where work-related stress is the biggest cause of sleepless nights, and people fear raising sleeping problems with colleagues. Almost two-thirds of business leaders (63 per cent) say sleep is the sole responsibility of the individual, and 70 per cent of workers have never spoken to their bosses about bad sleep for fear it would damage their careers or increase scrutiny from managers.
He suggests technology and the lack of a work-life balance are reasons for our sleep deterioration. Smartphones have made it “harder to set boundaries between work time and down time”, he says, and “we found taking work worries home and feeling like you can’t switch off negatively impact our sleep”.
After 25 years as a doctor, the GP Dr Pixie McKenna – who was involved in the Loughborough research – says she finds patients are reporting sleep deprivation more than ever before in her career. “People are working more, longer hours, there’s an expectation you never really shut off, so I think it’s making it worse for sure.” She believes “a bigger interest by employers to look after their employees’ general health” would help.
New statesman.com Anoosh Chakelian