5 ways to help your employees sleep better

Help your employees sleep well to be well.

Written by Medibank

Most workplace wellbeing strategies include mental health, physical health, and exercise as foundational pillars. However, sleep is an essential but often overlooked element of employee health. 

The World Sleep Day organisation describes sleep as necessary as exercise and eating well for a person's physical, mental, and social wellbeing.  

Not only that, but sleep is vital for several functions, including concentration, productivity and problem-solving. Sleep can also enhance energy, creativity and communication skills. All essential skills we rely on during the working day. 

Consequently, poor sleep may negatively impact our physical health.  

Typically when people are tired, they are less inclined to exercise and may make less healthy food choices. Long-term sleep deficiency may result in a higher risk of chronic disease, including cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes and depression.  

The workplace can play a significant role in promoting sleep health for their employees. Ideas include a combination of educational, environmental and policy-based initiatives that support healthy sleep habits.  

Let's explore some practical solutions. 

1. Increase education and awareness  

Running sleep-themed events can help employees understand the importance of sleep and take appropriate action. Ideas include: 

  • An expert keynote speaker on the role of sleep in energy, productivity and wellbeing
  • Interactive seminars and webinars on healthy sleep habits 
  • Educational resources like the Medibank Sleep Report
  • Create a forum where employees can share their sleep tips.  
  • Make it memorable. Have a pyjama day, a sleep-in day or send out sleep kits 

2. Schedule daylight breaks 

Back-to-back virtual meetings and work demands can make stepping away from the computer difficult. Similarly, people who work from home may start their day in front of a screen instead of spending time outdoors commuting to and from work.  

Encouraging regular screen breaks, especially in natural light, can help optimise sleep. This is because exposure to sunlight helps regulate our bodies' circadian rhythm, which controls when to wake up or get ready for bed. Natural light also affects our production of the sleep hormone melatonin.  

Workplaces can encourage employees to start the day with an outdoor walk, eat lunch outside or take regular nature breaks.  

3. Address underlying causes of poor sleep

For up to 50% of Australian adults, a sleep condition, like sleep apnoea, insomnia or restless leg syndrome, could keep them awake at night. 

Over a prolonged period, sleep disorders may negatively impact work relationships or productivity. Broader implications may include increased sick leave and health and safety risks

In addition to providing education on sleep health, employees should speak to their GP or Employee Assistance Program (EAP) for further help.  

4. Provide mental health support 

Sleep quality and stress can be closely interlinked. When stressed, it can be hard to fall asleep or stay asleep. The downside to this cycle is that not sleeping well can also contribute to feeling more stressed or anxious.  

Within the workplace, stress can be caused by many factors. Areas to be aware of include high workloads, starting a new role or times of change, and uncertainty.  

Cognitive-behavioural therapy, mindfulness tools, meditation and sleep hygiene tips may help support employees. Employees should also speak to their leader for appropriate support and workload accommodations. 

5. Create a culture of rest

A company-led approach to sleep can help establish a culture where employees and workplaces thrive. 

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang is a PhD scholar and global business consultant. Alex explores the importance of sleep and rest for productivity, energy and imagination. In his book, "Rest", he advised that "work and rest are partners…the better you are at resting, the better you are at working. 

Leaders can help start conversations and lead by example. Ideas include not sending emails late at night or allowing flexible hours to optimise productivity. 

Sleep well to be well. 

A 2019 study found that workplace health programs may help improve employee sleep duration and performance. Fostering a culture that values sleep health is an important step to inspire happier and healthier teams. 

If you would like to learn more about sleep or designing a corporate wellbeing strategy, please get in touch with corporate@medibank.com.au.  

Written by Medibank

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