Nuffield Health’s 2023 ‘Healthier Nation Index’ – a survey of 8,000 UK adults – has highlighted that poor sleep is still a huge issue across the nation. On average Brits are only getting 5.91 hours of sleep a night, this is down from 6.11 in 2022 and 6.19 in 2021.
Of those surveyed, only 36 per cent said their sleep was ‘good’, with the average healthy adult needing between 7.5 – 8.5 hours per night, equating to five sleep cycles.
This means that the remaining 65 percent of those questioned feel that they are not getting good quality sleep. Good quality of sleep is about having the right balance of deep, slow-wave sleep and shallow, rapid eye movement (REM) sleep – where dreaming occurs.
This is especially concerning given 11 percent of respondents only get between 2-4 hours of sleep per night and 36 percent only sleep between 4-6 hours a day. Only 8 percent of us get more than the recommended 8 hours per night.
The study reveals those in the 45-54-year age bracket claim to have the worst sleep, with only 29 percent saying theirs is ‘good’ and with most averaging only 5.72 hours a night. The industries with the worst sleep and least likely to rate theirs as ‘good’ are Retail (32%) and those in HR (34%).
Industries that rated their sleep as the best are I.T. (48%) and Finance (44%), but noticeably for both industries, the statistics are still under half.
These findings are especially pertinent during September’s ‘Sleeptember’, which focuses on promoting better sleep quality.
The results suggest poor sleep quality reduces employee productivity. 37 percent said they were less productive after a poor night’s sleep. It also negatively impacts mental health, especially so in women. 55 percent said poor sleep had a negative impact on their emotional wellbeing, compared to just 41 percent of men.
When examining the different age brackets, it was 35–44-year-olds’ emotional wellbeing, which was most affected by poor sleep. 57 percent said not getting enough, was having a negative impact on their mental health.
The industries whose mental health was most affected by poor sleep include Architecture, Engineering & Building (56%), Education (55%), Retail (53%) and Healthcare (54%).
The relationship between mental health and sleep isn’t entirely understood but according to neurochemistry studies, an adequate night’s sleep helps enhance mental and emotional resilience equally.
Chronic sleep disruptions might generate negative thinking and emotional sensitivity and research suggests poor sleep makes us twice as responsive to stress. It’s also thought treating insomnia may help alleviate the symptoms associated with anxiety and vice versa.
The study suggests there is also a link between sleep and financial wellbeing. As salary increases, so does the percentage of those who rate their sleep as ‘good’.
However, interestingly, there is a drop in one of the salary brackets. 40 percent of those earning between £45-55K reported their sleep as good, but this rating decreased to 36 percent for those earing in the £55-65,000 salary bracket, before increasing again.
Luke Cousins, Physiology Regional Lead, at Nuffield Health commented:
“There still exists a vital need for employers to be more attuned to the sleep needs of their staff and the potential role it has in improving employee physical and emotional wellbeing if businesses prioritise its importance.
“Companies should collaboratively engage with their healthcare partners to bolster sleep education, and the relevant employee benefits needed to support those struggling.
“Taking a holistic view on health – including offering interventions that cover the full range of risks – is the only way to get back to maximum wellbeing and create a healthier nation.”
Luke offers advice on how employers can play their part in creating holistic health interventions to enhance sleep quality among their workforces:
We know that poor sleep impacts our teams, but it has a negative effect on leadership styles too. Lack of sleep hinders your ability to employ self-control and makes it more likely you’ll overreact, to difficult situations.
Inspiring the teams we lead is important but perceived charisma of leaders decreases by 13 percent when they lose just two hours of sleep.
Leaders can have a negative indirect impact on teamwork through sleep devaluation. This is when managers demonstrate behaviours like sending emails late at night, boasting about working late or praising others that do the same.
The effect this has on our teams is huge. Employees pay attention to these signals and may match their behaviour accordingly. Managers need to lead from the top down here and ensure they are sending the right messages to their teams. Try not to stay late and openly address the myths surrounding sleep and productivity.
Employees should also be encouraged to work around their natural sleep patterns where possible, for example, avoiding scheduling early-morning or late-evening calls.
Discuss with HR and other senior departments how to prioritise sleep management in your current health and wellbeing strategies, to complement other elements like nutrition and exercise.
Employees may not even realise they are having difficulties due to their poor sleep, so line managers should receive the right training to recognise the signs and offer support when required. This creates an open dialogue around sleep concerns and shows a discussion about sleep is both welcomed and expected in the workplace and support plans can be created.
Where signs of emotional difficulty are identified, employers should signpost individuals towards the relevant emotional wellbeing support available to them. As suggested by our study, stress from outside the world of work – like finances, addiction, or family problems – can negatively impact sleep. 36 percent and 35 percent of individuals said stress and anxiety was keeping them awake at night. These were the two biggest factors to impact sleep, followed by financial concerns (21%).
Businesses should provide wellbeing support through external services. Cognitive behavioural therapy is an effective therapeutic therapy to treat insomnia. The treatment is referred to as CBT-I and can be used instead of sleeping tablets and basic sleep hygiene techniques.
CBT-I considers how your thoughts and beliefs about sleep may be influencing your sleep behaviours. CBT will look at your behaviours and habits around sleep and introduce techniques like relaxation and sleep restriction.
Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) or counselling can also offer direct, confidential contact with experts who can support individuals who feel their mental health is impacted by poor sleep.
Responsible businesses should try to find ways to encourage lifestyle changes outside of work, to help boost the effects of the internal employee benefits they offer.
For example, emphasising the benefits of exercise in regulating sleep patterns, just not right before bed, as we remain in an ‘activated’ mode for a while after exercising, making it difficult to sleep.
Suggesting an outdoor run or power walk during lunch hours not only gets employees away from their desks but exposes them to natural daylight, promoting healthy sleep hormone cycles.
Running internal talks and inviting health experts to discuss the impact of poor sleep and how to support those experiencing poor sleep, can be beneficial. For example, you could run a session on sleep hygiene, which focuses on simple habits staff can adopt to improve the quality of their sleep, like establishing a non-negotiable bedtime routine and limiting their use of electronics when the working day is over.