This article takes a look at some of the key benefits that can be realised when an individual and indeed a workforce is getting better sleep. Whilst good quality sleep is not a silver bullet, it is a big part of a holistic well-being strategy.
In summary of the main sleep benefits in health and safety are:
- A reduction in fatigue with fewer incidents at work
- Improved mental health for employees
- Improved functions of the immune system
- Increased concentration in drivers
- Decreased stress levels at work
- Potentially lowered blood-pressure in workers
Here we take a look at the benefits individually and why they are all good reasons to invest in sleep and wellbeing in an occupational health strategy.
As our previous article showed there are several different reasons why it is important to get not only the right amount of sleep but also the right type. In terms of sleep in a health and safety context, the impact of it or a lack thereof in shift workers is clear to see from various academic studies.
The importance of sleep appears to be given more attention each year, and Mathew Walker’s popular book ‘Why We Sleep’ has helped to drive awareness of this important physiological function and why it is essential to get the right amount of sleep and the right type.
In this week’s article, we have a look at the benefits of sleep, both within and outside a health and safety context, and why companies are looking to invest in it and other areas of wellbeing.
1. Good quality sleep reduces fatigue, resulting in fewer incidents at work
As shown in our piece on how sleep impacts on health and safety, fatigue is a big factor. Good quality sleep has been shown to reduce the number of accidents connected to a lack of concentration when operating heavy machinery. Additionally, well-rested workers may also perform the tasks in a more efficient manner, increasing productivity.
Encouraging and facilitating a good night’s sleep in your workers will not only reduce the likelihood of incidents, it will also improve their overall mental health and wellbeing.
2. Getting the right sleep improves overall mental health for workers
There is a clear connection between the quality of one’s sleep and their overall mental health. Having the feeling of being well-rested is linked to better overall mood throughout the day. This added improvement to mood often makes social interactions better at work and can foster higher personal levels of motivation in workers in regards to their career and performance at work.
Recent studies have focused on the importance of sleep and more importantly REM sleep in relation to emotional and mental health. REM sleep is the period in which you sleep, when it occurs your blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing levels rise to similar levels during awakeness. This kind of sleep has been shown to enhance memory, cognitive function and it contributes to better mental health.
3. Sleep is great for your immune system and physical health
Days lost through ill-health is still a major concern in the world of health and safety and it is a generally held consensus that as part of a holistic strategy workers should be encouraged to look after their own physical health and advocate general hygiene in the workplace.
This is especially important in 2020 heading into 2021 for obvious reasons, and many are trying to do the best they can to strengthen their immune system.
Good quality sleep with the correct amount of REM and NREM periods has been shown to strengthen the immune system; reducing the likelihood of you getting ill. This has obvious benefits for both industrial and office-based workplaces and if employees are getting better sleep and are looking after other parameters they are less likely to be sick. Reducing the amount of lost productivity time, increasing overall well-being, and potentially reducing rates of presenteeism.
4. Increased concentration in vehicles
When it comes to driver safety, there are only so many technological implementations that can increase safety, and whilst they are important, we must ensure the person is fit to drive.
Sleep can have a big impact on concentration and as a result your ability to operate a vehicle safely. Studies have shown that one sleepless night can impair driving performance in the same way that a blood-alcohol level of 0.05% can have. In a sense, a sleepless night could cause an equal drop in concentration in a driver as if the person was over the legal limit to drive in terms of alcohol.
On the flip side, the increased concentration associated not only with a good night’s sleep but a good overall sleeping routine over weeks and months decreases the risks associated with a lack of concentration whilst driving.
5. Decreased stress levels and increased social interaction
With the levels of reported mental health issues ranging from depression to anxiety increasing, getting the right amount of sleep is becoming more crucial. Chronic sleep deprivation has been linked to an increase in stress levels as shown in the study of Huang et al, 2011. This can have big implications not only from an occupational health perspective but also the harmony of the workplace. Increased stress can often lead to increased irritability, which can lead to more conflict in the workplace.
6. Sleep can help lower blood pressure in workers
From an occupational health perspective, sleep is a real big factor in a lot of the parameters that are measured. In terms of a workers physical health, sleep had been linked to reduced blood pressure levels which contributes to good overall health and reduced risk of heart attacks. Higher blood pressure puts a bigger strain on your blood vessels and vital organs, sleep helps lower blood pressure through encouraging better rest and relaxation. This can lead to lower levels of health conditions in a workforce on a macro level, which is good for overall well-being in health and safety.
A well rested-workforce is often a safer one
The benefits of good quality sleep are plain to see on an individual level and at the organisational one the reduction in the number of incidents that may occur over an extended period of time is a great incentive to invest in the area. What organisations can do when it comes to facilitating good sleep is encouraging it through the culture, practices, and social norms.
Try and help workers if possible to stick to regular sleeping patterns through standardised shifts, this can be tricky depending on the industry. Beyond that all of the other mental health and well-being practices commonly advised will help contribute to an environment that encourages a focus on well-being and as a result good sleep. The next article in our sleep series will look more into the steps you can take to improve the sleep and mental health of your workers.
Huang, Y., Mai, W., Hu, Y., Wu, Y., Song, Y., Qiu, R., Dong, Y. and Kuang, J., 2011. Poor sleep quality, stress status, and sympathetic nervous system activation in non dipping hypertension. Blood pressure monitoring, 16(3), pp.117-123.