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What’s Working? Sleep & The Benefits of Lunchtime Naps

Unless you were living in a country with a strong “siesta” culture, the concept of dozing off during the day was once synonymous with a lack of productivity and professionalism.

However, as our insights into the importance of sleep grow, companies are beginning to realise how a more flexible approach to rest can have huge benefits for employees and their bottom line.

Well-versed in matters of fatigue management and recovery, Vhi expert Tom Coleman is a strong advocate for investing in sleep. He outlines why and how companies should go about doing just that…

Is Ireland a sleep-deprived nation?

There are many indications that Ireland is indeed sleep-deprived. Last year, I was directly involved in VhiHealth Insights research on sleep in corporate Ireland and we learnt some interesting things about behaviours and attitudes toward sleep. Some 71% of corporate employees admitted to feeling fatigued at work at least several times a month. As well as that, 26% reported poor sleep every single night.

What modern factors feed into this?

A combination of technology – which allows a massive amount of accessibility in terms of our work life and social life – and busier lifestyles has the biggest impact. We are creatures of habit in every sense and we inadvertently find ourselves in a position where we have developed a chronic habit of depriving ourselves of sleep. We have become hooked on being “switched on”.

So, how can sleep deprivation impact the workplace?

Even a small amount of sleep deprivation impairs both cognitive and motor function. Sleeplessness interferes with social functioning, alters mood, and puts strain on work relationships. It also impairs our ability to empathise, makes us less inclined to work together, and contributes to a more negative outlook as a whole.

The financial implications can manifest in many different ways, including reduced productivity, missed days due to illness, increased rates of accident and increased reliance on health care services. 

An employer should invest in sleep for the same reason that leading sports scientists and coaches do: because the return on investment will have a profound and positive impact. On the health, safety, recovery, performance, efficiency, morale and effectiveness of their employees.

How can workplace naps be beneficial?

A nap increases creative thinking and gives us a well-needed memory boost. Like a computer has space for temporary storage of information, so does your brain. When we nap, this get cleared and frees up space to absorb new information. So essentially after a nap, you will have a more powerful computer with more space for learning, processing and problem solving.

Generally, I would recommend a short nap of anywhere between 15 minutes to half an hour. For shift workers going into a long 12-hour night shift, I would recommend a full sleep cycle of 90 minutes. At the end of the 90-minute cycle, many people will wake up naturally and more easily feeling refreshed.

What can employers do to support this?

Start by educating, raising awareness and, most importantly, nurturing a culture which not only allows but encourages naps to become the norm.

Providing a private space for quiet time, relaxation and ultimately a place where people can nap would be ideal. More flexible working hours could help. Providing simple things like face masks which block light and better food choices at different hours would also definitely impact sleep quality.

What practical hurdles are there to overcome initially?

Understanding the value in allowing people to take down time in the workplace. There will, of course, be the issue of providing a space where people can feel comfortable enough to have a sleep. Workplaces may have to invest in a soundproof space where disturbances were minimal. But a lot of these already exist in many of the workplaces I visit!

It may be a gradual journey over the course of time, but once the benefits are realised, I have every faith that the attitudes will change, and the environment will be created.

What time we got up at was once how we measured how hard we worked. We heard stories of famous high-achieving CEOs who got by on 3-4 hours sleep. But that’s changed because the evidence around sleep and fatigue shows that we’re a lot more productive if we have the recommended 7-8 hours.

What’s one suggestion you’d have to improve the Irish workplace?

Affording the same privileges, benefits and care to shift workers. This is a growing cohort which is more susceptible to illness, health problems and who have less access to supports, education and services. Making these equitable for all workers will ensure we do not encounter a tsunami of health issues down the line.

Looking for more information on how Vhi can help you support your employees? Simply speak to your account manager or visit vhi.ie/employers