Poor productivity due to lack of sleep is costing the UK economy billions

New research shows that our economy is suffering because of the poor sleeping habits of our workforces.

Tired employees not getting the sleep they need and being less productive as a result are costing the UK economy tens of billions each year, according to new research published this week.

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Designated nap zones in workplaces and offering sleep training to employees are among the measures recommended to deal with a worrying trend of people not getting the rest they should.

Sleep deprivation, which can kill in extreme cases, increases the risk of death by 13 per cent. It is linked with health problems such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, septicaemia and hypertension.

The health impacts on workers not having the right amount of sleep result in Britain losing around 200,000 working days a year, says the report by RAND Europe. 

A combination of lower productivity and poorer health among sleep-starved workers is costing the country up to £40 billion a year. The analysis draws on data from more than 62,000 people involved VitalityHealth’s Britain’s Healthiest Workplace study.

“Sleep loss and sleep-related disorders have been linked to a number of accidents and catastrophes including the Chernobyl nuclear explosion, the Three Mile Island nuclear incident, the Exxon Valdez spill and the Space Shuttle Challenger tragedy,” it warns.

The proportion of people getting less than the recommended seven to nine hours sleep a night is “rising and is associated with lifestyle factors related to a modern 24/7 society, such as psychosocial stress, unbalanced diet, lack of physical activity and excessive electronic media use,” the report states.

A healthy amount of sleep is between seven and nine hours per night. But one in three (35 per cent) working Britons are failing to get this. The proportion of workers not having the recommended amount of sleep rises to 45 per cent in the US, and 56 per cent in Japan, while it is lower in Germany (30 per cent) and Canada (26 per cent).

Factors involved in workers becoming sleep deprived include the prevalence of longer working hours and more shift work, as well as the spread of modern communication technology which not only allows people to work longer, but “also provides outlets for distraction and entertainment, possibly chipping away at hours reserved for sleep,” the report says.

Employers should consider “incorporating sleep training within the broader framework of other well-being initiatives which may already be in place,” it suggests.

Wearable gadgets to monitor sleep-wake activity “may provide a useful way for employees to track their sleep,” and the report describes how “a growing number of companies have installed sleep facilities for employees to use and introduced snooze-friendly policies.”

Marco Hafner, lead author of the study and research leader at RAND Europe, told TJ: “Many different training programmes in the workplace can promote healthy patterns of sleep, and, at the same time, improve health and wellbeing of employees. These could be wellbeing initiatives, sessions on financial management, stress-relief programmes or even physical activities during lunchtime or after work.”

Vicki Culpin, Professor of Organisational Behaviour, Ashridge Executive Education at Hult International Business School, comments: “Sleep researchers have, for a long time, been building a body of knowledge to show how poor quality and quantity of sleep can have a significant impact on cognitive, social, emotional and physical health.

“This research is now attempting to quantify the financial impact of these effects, a metric that corporates will, hopefully, pay attention to. In the long run, this research may help to change the fallacious assumption that productivity and presenteeism are perfectly correlated, and encourage more open dialogues around the impact of poor sleep on a number of aspects of life.”

Maryanne Taylor, Founder and Sleep Consultant, The Sleep Works says: “Studies show that sleep deprivation leads to lower levels of alertness, focus and concentration.  This extends to logical reasoning, complex thought process and judgement ability.  Making decisions and assessing situations becomes more difficult which impacts on behaviour in certain circumstances.

“Short term memory also impacted by insufficient sleep which affects the ability to perform complex tasks, leading on to simple tasks. Memories are consolidated in our brains when we sleep.  Lack of sleep disrupts this so it is difficult to maintain long term memories and learn new skills.”

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