Dealing With Sleep Disorders At Work

07th February 2020

Recent research carried out by the NHS revealed that the number of tests carried out to diagnose sleep disorders in people across England has doubled in the past decade. It is estimated that 1.5 million people in the UK suffer from sleep apnoea, a serious sleep disorder that can cause temporary stops in breathing. These statistics show that sleep disorders are becoming more common in people across the UK. But why is this an increasing concern for businesses?

According to the BBC, sleep-deprived workers are costing the UK economy £40bn a year. This financial loss comes as a result of tired employees performing less productively, being prone to making more mistakes and in some cases, being unable to make it into work. This shows that the effect sleep disorders have on workers is an occupational health issue that needs addressing within the workplace. Continue reading this post to find out how to recognise the signs of sleep disorders, and be in a stronger position to be able to offer the right support to your employees.

How Do Sleep Disorders Affect Workplace Performance?

In one of our earlier posts, we discussed the links between sleep and sickness absence, and how within the UK sleep deprivation is a growing phenomenon. We found research reporting that the average person living in the UK gets between only 5.78 and 6.83 hours of sleep per night.

For the average person, having a bad night’s sleep will take a toll on their concentration levels and how productively they’re able to perform at work. But what about for those consistently getting considerably less than the recommended 8 hours of sleep per night due to sleep disorders?

Sleep disorders are conditions that affect a person’s sleep, which ultimately negatively affect a person’s life in various ways. For employers, there are two issues that need to be addressed. The first of which is employee happiness and morale; consistently having a lack of sleep can leave a person feeling irritable and generally low, which over time can take a toll on a person’s mental wellbeing. On the other hand, being tired at work can have a serious impact on a person’s ability to safely carry out their job. This is particularly the case if their job role involves driving or operating machinery where tiredness can increase the likelihood of accidents. In fact, fatigue has been found to play in role in 20% of accidents on major roads.

Sleep Disorders

Here are some of the most common sleep disorders people suffer from:

  • Delayed sleep phase disorder (DSPD) – Caused by dysregulation of a person’s body clock meaning that they are unable to wake up or fall asleep at a conventional time.
  • Insomnia – One of the better-known sleeping disorders, insomnia is where a person has difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, even when they have the chance to do so.
  • Narcolepsy – This rare long-term brain condition causes a person to suddenly fall asleep at inappropriate times, along with other symptoms.
  • Restless legs syndrome (RLS) – This is a sleep condition related to the nervous system causing an overwhelming urge to move the legs, which is often worse in the evening or at night.
  • Sleep apnoea – This disorder causes pauses in breathing or periods of shallow breathing during sleep, this is often paired with loud snoring, and frequent waking up throughout the night.

Sleep disorders affect people in different ways, but as an employer some of the key signs to look out for are:

  • Lack of focus and motivation
  • Generally being more forgetful
  • Feeling constantly low
  • Tiredness
  • Showing higher levels of stress

Occupational Health Intervention

If employees are showing the potential signs of sleep deprivation, you should look at involving an occupational health advisor to help. Depending on how a sleep disorder is affecting them within their role, they may need to have their responsibilities changed so that they can operate safely within their role. An occupational health team can carry out health surveillance to ensure that any necessary steps and plans are in place to protect employees. Or, for repeat absences look at putting a sickness management plan in place to better manage their absence. Get in touch with our team for more information.

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