Sleep Management

Sue Hazleton, Hertfordshire Growth Hub

In recent years the importance of sleep for overall health and wellbeing has generated much public interest. During the Covid-19 pandemic many people have experienced sleep disruption, which can be problematic in their working and personal lives.

The Impact of Covid-19 on Sleep

Even before the pandemic, sleep-deprived workers cost the UK economy up to £40bn a year, due to tired employees being less productive, or absent from work. In the UK, the number of people experiencing insomnia rose from one in six before the pandemic, to one in four during it. As well as increased stress and anxiety related to Covid-19 itself there can be other concerns around finance, work and loved ones.

Enforced changes to daily routines and social lives, spending more time indoors, working from home and not having the demarcation that frames the day, can lead to people having trouble falling asleep and daytime dysfunction related to poor sleep.

Raising awareness of and addressing these issues in the workplace is crucial to the productivity and engagement of staff. It is important for organisations to set parameters around work and home life and to encourage employees who are not working in the office to have a regular routine. This article can be shared with colleagues or staff as part of a wellbeing action plan or policy and can facilitate the subject of sleep to be addressed in one-to-one meetings and discussions.

The Function of Sleep and Health Impacts

Sleep is an important period of rest for the body to replenish the bodies’ resources and repair itself. We sleep when a process known as the circadian clock aligns our brain with a 24-hour day of light and dark, promoting sleep at night, and arousal and wakefulness during daylight hours. These biological patterns, known as circadian rhythms, have an impact on various physiological and psychological functions and can be particularly challenging for night shift workers who may have difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep.

Sleep is linked to the ability to learn and memorise, make logical decisions and choices, and supports individuals dealing with social and psychological challenges. Sleep has also been shown to have a number of physical health benefits including restoring immune function, balancing insulin and glucose, balancing gut bacteria and lowering blood pressure. As a result, long term poor sleep patterns have been linked to cardiovascular disease, accidents, diabetes, hypertension, weight gain and depression.

Therefore, getting the right amount of quality sleep (which is different for everyone) is fundamental to health, wellbeing and functioning. However, five in ten people report poor sleep quality, representing the second most common health complaint after pain.

Ways to Improve Sleep

Good sleep hygiene (i.e. behaviours that ensure sufficient and high quality sleep) can benefit both physical and psychological health. There are some simple tips and behaviours that can make a huge difference to your sleep quality and quantity:

Establish a regular bedtime routine It’s not only young children who benefit from a bedtime routine!

  • Go to bed and get up at a similar time every day, even at weekends, regardless of whether you are working from home that day or going into the office. Think about setting an alarm for bedtime!
  • Allow at least an hour before sleep to wind down and transition from the stresses of the day – make it smart phone, tablet and computer free
  • Ensure your sleep environment is cool, dark and quiet. Have a neutral calm colour scheme
  • Declutter your bedroom and your mind – download your day before bedtime to prevent overthinking and worrying.
  • Use stress reduction techniques.
  • Take regular breaks, away from technology, during your working day to refresh your mind and concentration levels
  • Use your bedroom for sleep and sex only!

Physical Activity

  • Set your body clock with daylight and incorporate regular physical activity outside, even if it is just going for a walk round the block
  • Don’t engage in high intensity exercise, such as jogging or Zumba, 3-4 hours before bedtime


Eating and drinking behaviour

  • Manage your caffeine intake (a stimulant) to no more than 400mg a day. Sleep can be improved if caffeine intake is dramatically reduced after 12pm. Reduce intake gradually as you can experience withdrawal symptoms if you suddenly quit
  • Don’t go to bed hungry, thirsty, or over full and try to stop eating 3-4 hours before bedtime
  • Manage your alcohol intake. Although alcohol may help you relax, you will have much poorer quality sleep. Alcohol enters the bloodstream and can affect all areas of your body.

If these self-help measures and the resources below do not help and your sleep is chronically disrupted or disordered, please do seek advice, which may be from your GP in the first instance.

Further resources and information

The NHS has a range of support through their website:

How to get to sleep - NHS (www.nhs.uk)

Sleep problems - Every Mind Matters - NHS (www.nhs.uk)

Mind has advice on how to cope with sleep problems: Sleep and mental health | Mind, the mental health charity - help for mental health problems

 

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