Improving wellness – let’s sleep on it

When thinking of wellness, we often focus on exercise, nutrition and stress management

all of which are things we can actively work on during the day to improve our health. But what we do at night (sleep) and how we prepare for sleep – should also be a major focus when considering your wellbeing.
In a recent Virgin Pulse study about employee sleep habits, 76 per cent of respondents felt tired during the day, 30 per cent felt that they were unhappy or very unhappy with the quality and quantity of their sleep and 15 per cent dozed off during the day at least once per week (Batman, 2016).

Sleep can be a silent culprit, and one which is often overlooked.

Out of sight, out of mind, as the saying goes. However, perhaps now more than ever with, screens in the bedroom and work emails at our fingertips day and night, we need to acknowledge that quantity and quality of sleep plays a major part in a person’s health and wellbeing. 

Why sleep?

Dr David C Batman, international occupational health advisor and a member of the Virgin Pulse Scientific Advisory Board, believes the importance of sleep should not be underestimated. He says good sleep:

  • Is essential for cognitive and physical performance
  • Is essential for learning and memory consolidation
  • Has restorative powers
  • Enhances mood
  • Protects the immune system
  • Has, according to new research, a relationship to weight gain and aging
One study, examined by McKinsey, also found ‘that a good night’s sleep leads to new insights: participants who enjoyed one were twice as likely as those who didn’t to discover a hidden shortcut in a task’ (Van Dam & van der Helm, 2016).  At the other end of the spectrum, the effects of poor sleep habits on performance are significant.  When you look at quality of work, sleep deprivation impairs judgement and reaction time and reduces productivity; when considering career implications, it can result in absenteeism, lateness, reduced productivity and increased healthcare costs. In relation to safety, studies show that hand-eye coordination when sleep deprived is as bad as or worse than when intoxicated, resulting in increased accidents.

What’s stealing our sleep?

It can be easy to ignore the main reasons for lack of sleep, especially if they are due to mental wellbeing or have simply become part of our routine. Dr Batman outlines a few common sleep stealers:
  • Physical illness/chronic pain – tossing and turning may make it hard to fall asleep and may cause night wakings.
  • Depression – falling asleep is usually fine but night wakings can be frequent and long-lasting.
  • Anxiety – falling asleep can be difficult.
  • Stress - or inability to deal with stress.
  • Medication – side effects could be responsible for poor sleep.
  • Babies/children.
  • Work schedules/shifts – some people adapt well but some don’t.
  • Alcohol and drugs – these may aid in falling asleep but will not help sleep over the long term. 
  • Social media/mobile phones/24 hour society – blue light interferes with melatonin levels, which interferes with sleep. There is also the temptation to answer messages/emails/calls when you hear them come through, even when your device is only on vibrate.

What can we do to promote healthy sleep patterns?

There are many things we can do throughout the day and in the evening to improve our sleep pattern such as:
  • Keep screens out of the bedroom
  • Screen free for an hour leading into bed time
  • Write down tasks for the following day
  • Develop a pre-sleep routine
  • Manage stress levels throughout the day
  • Participate in calming activities (such as meditation, mindfulness, reading, or Yoga)
  • Know where to find help/support when you need it

Keep an eye on future articles for tips on how to sleep better, feel more refreshed upon waking, and create pre-sleep routines. 

Batman, D. C. (2016) Webinar: Time to wake up to the impact of sleep on employee performance. Virgin Pulse.
Van Dam, N. & van der Helm, E. (2016) The organizational cost of insufficient sleep: Sleep-awareness programs can produce better leaders.  McKinsey Quarterly, Feb 2016.
Australasian Sleep association.