Rise and shine: Five ways good sleep boosts employee productivity

There’s one thing you can help your workers do that will up your game and feel great – support them to sleep better. Here’s why…

Yugi the Giraffe - 25 April 2022

In his bestselling 2017 book, Why We Sleep, neuroscientist Matthew Walker playfully compares sleep to “a revolutionary new treatment.” He lists its benefits: “It enhances your memory, makes you more attractive. It keeps you slim and lowers food cravings. It protects you from cancer and dementia. It wards off colds and flu. It lowers your risk of heart attacks and stroke, not to mention diabetes. You’ll even feel happier, less depressed, and less anxious.”

It sounds like a miracle cure, right?

And yet many of us aren’t getting a decent night’s shut-eye, with one in three people in the UK suffering from insomnia, according to NHS Choices. “The number of people with disordered sleep is growing,” says Li Åslund PhD, Psychologist and sleep expert at YuLife partner and sleep tracking app, Sleep Cycle. There are various causes – a lack of routine, no boundaries between work and home, our use of devices and social media, which tells our brains to stay alert late into the night.

She gives five reasons why, as employers, we should be concerned about this – and what we can do about it.

1) Performance peaks when we’re sleeping well

Individuals’ needs vary but the recommended amount of sleep for an adult is between seven and nine hours a night. Anything that strays far outside of that can be a warning sign that there’s a problem with the quality of sleep you’re getting.

“Indicators of good sleep quality include falling asleep in less than 30 minutes, waking up only once per night, staying awake for no more than 20 minutes and sleeping more than 85% of the time spent in bed,” Li explains.

Meeting those targets has all sorts of positive impacts at work – giving us more energy, better physical health, mental wellbeing and stronger cognitive capabilities, which translate into the kind of tasks that employees across a range of sectors engage in day-to-day, whatever their role or level of seniority in the team, such as concentration, memory, reasoning and problem-solving.

2) Optimum sleep helps us to think creatively

Whether it’s coming up with a name for a new name for a product, devising a care plan for a patient or exploring an alternative way of running a project in the face of unforeseen obstacles, the most effective employees are those who are creative and resilient in the face of change.

“Innovative aspects of cognition seem to be sensitive to sleep loss,” says Li. “Sleep deprivation impairs decision making, and this is particularly true for decisions involving innovation, the unexpected and revising plans.

Sleep loss is known to impair performance when it comes to being flexible and choosing different strategies when needed. It also reduces our ability for originality and the generation of unusual ideas.”

Conversely, we are more prone to mistakes when we’re sleep-deprived. A US study of doctors found that those with high, and very high sleep impairment were 96% more likely to say they had made clinically significant errors.

3) A rested workforce is a happy workforce

“Poor sleep affects our ability to deal with our feelings and the everyday challenges we face,” says Li. “Daytime sleepiness, often the result of poor sleep, can negatively affect the ability to handle emotions, making us more emotionally reactive.In a professional setting, this can affect how well people manage or collaborate with others.

In a meeting with a potential new business client, for example, you need to be able to calmly pitch and negotiate without getting flustered. What’s more, substandard sleep is linked to symptoms of stress, depression and anxiety.

“However,” Li notes, “the relationship between sleep and mental health is thought to be bidirectional and complex.” It’s easy to get caught in a vicious cycle where poor sleep causes anxiety which causes problems falling asleep or waking multiple times throughout the night.

4) Staff who sleep well take fewer sick days

Sleep is how humans and animals recharge the body. In the long-term, insufficient sleep may increase someone’s risk of developing heart disease, obesity and type-2 diabetes. And in the short term, “a lack of sleep can also have a negative effect on the immune system, says Li.

People with sleep deprivation are more likely to get sick. This means that ensuring that you are well-rested is a way to reduce the risk of catching viruses such as the common cold.”

Additionally, sleep deprivation has been linked to a higher rate of accidents, says Li. “Sleep loss is also related to injury at work and sick leave, both of which are expensive for the individual as well as the workplace.” In the UK, 200,000 working days are lost each year due to poor sleep, at an annual cost to the economy of up to £40 billion, according to findings by RAND Europe.

5) Technology holds the answer

Fortunately, the answer to your employees’ sleep issues is in the palm of their hands. Regular sleep and wake times are key, as is creating a sleep-friendly environment which is dark, cool and quiet. Apps such as Sleep Cycle, working in partnership with YuLife to incentivise healthy habits, have a vital role to play.

“Sleep tracking offers the possibility to discover more about your sleep,” says Li. “By analysing patterns in sleep over time, technology can be a key to better sleep as you gain insights on habits that influence your night. By understanding your own sleep data, you can make the changes necessary for greater rest and recovery.”

Sleep Cycle isn’t just about capturing information, the technology offers audio sleep aids, including meditations and music, ASMR, soundscapes and stories, to help with getting relaxed before falling asleep  –  and even an exclusive bedtime story voiced by award-winning actor Alexander Skarsgård.

Yugi the Giraffe

Yugi is our YuLife mascot. Like all giraffes they've got a big heart – in fact the biggest heart of all land animals.