Sleep deprivation is lurking in the workplace: “Knowledge is the first step towards change”

Restorative sleep is crucial to getting through the working day in a concentrated and active way. American and European studies show that tired employees are up to 55% less productive and 20% more absent than their well-rested colleagues. Sleep-deprived workers are also more likely to have an accident at work. High time for a wake-up call!

According to figures from the Belgian Royal Academy of Medicine, 1 in 3 Belgians sleeps poorly and 20% suffer from chronic insomnia. Dr Inge Declercq, neurologist and sleep expert, was confronted with the true extent of the sleep problem among Belgian employees during her medical career.

How important is sleep in our daily lives?

Inge: “A single short night won’t hurt you that much. But in practice, with our fast pace of life and all the stress we experience, we don’t sleep well enough by a long shot. And that can have unpleasant or even seriously detrimental consequences. This includes things like less energy, less attention and concentration, disturbed memory and decision-making, greater susceptibility to infections, or a higher risk of obesity. Emotional control is also diminishing. The most serious consequences are probably the link between chronic sleep deprivation and cardiovascular diseases and even a higher risk of death.”

Sleeping is a part of one’s private life. Why is it important that the employer pays attention to this?

Inge: “It’s wrong to think that sleep and sleep deprivation are purely personal issues. Sleep and wakefulness are communicating vessels: if you sleep poorly at night, you are less effective during the day, and good sleepers generally perform better. Conversely, you can do a lot during working hours to improve your sleep: exercise, healthy eating, limiting your stress level, etc.”

The American Insomnia Survey estimated the annual cost of fatigue and other sleep-related complaints costs at least 2,000 euros per employee per year. This is a huge amount, especially when you know that a few simple interventions by the organisation can already help employees to get sleep of a higher quality.

This is not to say that the responsibility rests entirely with the employer. First of all, employees must teach themselves a healthy sleep-wake pattern. But the employer can certainly raise awareness about the importance of a good night’s sleep.”

Isn’t our need for sleep partly genetically determined?

“Humans are intrinsically programmed to wake up and sleep alternately. That sleep-wake cycle is controlled by three drivers: our biological clock, the amount of sleep we need to recover, and external influencers.

The first two are determined biologically. This does not mean, however, that you cannot have an impact on it: the external factors influence your biological clock. Typical examples are the amount of daylight or blue light you are exposed to, stress, exercise, diet, workload, etc. These external influencers – the third driver – are partly under your own control.”

6 tips to sleep better and be more energetic

1. Provide sufficient fresh air andnatural light during the day and limit blue (TV) light just before going to bed.
2. Sleep in a quiet,soothing room and keep the temperature in your bedroom at around 19°C.
3. Eat a healthy diet and drink plenty of water. Avoid a heavy meal just before going to bed.
4. Avoid (too much) stress during the day and clear your head before you go to sleep.
5. Maintain a steady sleep pattern and avoid long naps during the day.
6. Exercise sufficiently during the day and choose a relaxing activity in the evening, such as yoga or reading

The rhythm of work and the working environment also determine our inner peace. What role can the employer play in maintaining a healthy balance?

“The employer must ensure optimal working conditions. For example, allow employees who work in a room with low lighting to have sufficient breaks in the open air. Ensure a healthy rotation system for shift work. Or allow flexible working hours so that people can work according to their own biorhythms.

Many employees today are continuously available online, even after hours. This is partly their own choice, but employers would do well to create a framework that allows for disconnection. Let employees know that they don’t need to be reachable or that they don’t need to follow up on emails after their working hours if their job allows it.

In addition, offering workshops taught by experts is a logical step. This gives your employees insight into healthy sleep and, above all, into what they can do themselves to improve their sleep-wake quality. Recent studies by the London School of Economics show that training in that area is very cost-effective.”

3 things you (probably) didn’t know about sleeping

Did you know that…
…a working adult needs between 7 and 9 hours of sleep a night?
…you can consider it a good night’s sleep if you slept deeply for at least 15 percent of the night? The remaining hours are divided into the dozing phase (5-10%), light sleep (50-60%), and REM sleep (25%).
…the first half of our night’s sleep contains deeper sleep? Even for those who go to sleep after midnight. So it is not so much the hours before midnight, but the first hours of our sleep that are most important.

Better armed against sleep deprivation?

Inge Declercq shares her expertise in our The Power of Sleep training course.In it, she informs participants about the usefulness of sufficient sleep and the link with stress, and she provides numerous practical tools for restorative sleep and energetic wakefulness. The workshops are aimed at all job levels within a company: employees, managers, (shift) workers, and frequent travellers. Order a session at your office