Friday 17 May 2019 4:22 pm

Burning the candle at both ends? How to spot the signs of sleep deprivation

We live in a 24/7 economy, and while this means that everything is on-demand, it poses a problem for the modern-day workforce.

With short deadlines, urgent deal closures, and international companies operating in different time zones, staff are often expected to respond irrespective of the time of day or night. It’s certainly not unusual for employees who work in finance, law and other professional services to work long hours in the office.

The problem with this is staff can end up being sleep deprived. Besides being widely accepted as a possible cause of mental health problems and increasing risk of physical health conditions, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes, lack of sleep is widely reported to render employees more vulnerable to infection.

Studies have also found that it can degrade brain function to the extent that it drastically impairs learning and cognitive processing abilities.

Sleep deprivation may become so severe that it causes health problems which may be recognised as disabilities under the Equality Act 2010.

With this in mind, it is therefore crucial that both employers and their staff are able to recognise the signs of sleep deprivation to help prevent those adverse effects.

If you think a colleague is suffering from a lack of sleep, look out for symptoms, such as a deterioration in their performance, poor concentration, absent-mindedness, memory lapses, and bad mood.

Sleep deprivation could also cause inappropriate behaviour, causing some people to take greater risks. And if left to continue for a long time, eventually sleep deprivation can cause sickness absence.

While everyone is different, there are some tips to help you get a good night’s sleep.

First, try to have a sleeping routine by going to bed and waking up roughly at the same time every day. Also try to sleep in a calm, cool and dark environment, and avoid heavy meals late at night, as well as caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol.

Another “sleep hygiene” recommendation is to avoid watching TV and using smartphones, computers or tablets just before you go to bed. This is partly so that you can disconnect from work, but also because the blue light from screens keeps us awake by suppressing the fabrication of melatonin (the hormone that helps control our daily sleep-wake cycles).

In an ideal world, all electronic devices should be turned off an hour before bedtime.

For their part, businesses could help employees get a good sleep by encouraging staff to have screen breaks during the day – walking meetings are a great way of getting staff to soak up some natural light. Employers can also support their staff by having a flexi-time policy for employees who are required to travel across time zones.

Also don’t lose sight of the fact that sleep deprivation might be caused by staff working long hours in the office. If this is the case, you should look to lighten the workload and find ways to mitigate the demands of their job.

Our world is becoming increasingly instantaneous, but this doesn’t mean that we should sacrifice our sleep.