Lockdown insomnia: what are the signs that your team are struggling?

Written by Beth Gault Wednesday 31 March 2021
More people are struggling with sleep problems during the pandemic. How does that affect their performance at work?
Overlay of a person lying in bed and a person sitting up in bed

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected just about every part of people's lives – from home life, homeschool life, to work, social occasions, and the rhythm of every day. So it's not a surprise that lockdown has also had a big impact on sleep.

In August 2020, a study by the University of Southampton showed that the number of people experiencing insomnia in the UK rose from one in six to one in four. Those particularly hard hit included women with young children, key workers and people of black and diverse ethnic heritage.

A good night's sleep is crucial to mental and physical health, concentration, and decision-making in the workplace. Lisa Artis, deputy CEO of The Sleep Charity, which provides training to corporate sectors on improving sleep, says increased anxiety has contributed to this sleep deprivation.

Being on furlough or losing a job are causing financial worries. Concerns about Covid-19 and the health of family members are compounding this. Simply working at home has an impact.

"Some people really don't enjoy working from home – they need that structured routine of an office. They like a commute because that gives them time to decompress," says Lisa.

There has also been a blurring of boundaries of work, school and home life due to lockdown.

"There's more of a tendency to work later or even break off to have an evening meal with your children or something like that and then go back on and start working, just because it's there.”

So why should managers pay attention to sleep, and what are the signs your team are struggling?

The short-term effects of insomnia include a lack of concentration, poor memory, a foggy brain and decreased patience levels – all of which impact people’s performance at work, says Lisa. “If you're in a team and you've not slept well, then you could become snappy for no reason. You're maybe less tolerant about decisions or other attitudes or opinions in the team.”

If poor sleep continues, it can also have a longer impact on health. This includes an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, type two diabetes, obesity, anxiety and depression.

Dr Tom Micklewright, associate medical director at virtual GP platform Push Doctor, says: "Adults should be aiming for at least seven to nine hours of sleep per night for their bodies to function at their optimum levels."

Normalise sleep chats

The best thing managers can do to support their employees' sleep is to be open about it, says Lisa. We need to normalise sleep issues; nobody sleeps well all the time.

"It's nothing to be ashamed of,” she says. “People also feel really uncomfortable saying to their line manager that they feel tired. Many people feel that they're going to be thought of as lazy or not pulling their weight that day."

But a lack of sleep can impact performance; people aren't intentionally working below their potential. Managers should look out for the signs of sleep deprivation and step in where they can. These signs include constantly yawning, looking a bit unwell, looking a little grey, having eye bags, or being a bit clumsy, forgetful or moody. If your usually cheery colleague is suddenly very withdrawn, or if they seem a bit hyperactive, that's also time to ask if they are getting enough sleep.

Managers should offer to support employees who are struggling. This could include altering their work hours so they can get in later, adopting afternoon breaks, or putting in place a ‘no emails after 6pm’ rule. Or, it could be signposting to resources that encourage better sleep – such as webinars, workshops or websites.

“There's quite a lot [of tips] out there,” says Lisa. “What can be overwhelming if you're a poor sleeper is looking at top ten tips and thinking you've got to cram them all in an hour before bedtime. The real key is trying to keep regular hours as much as possible.”

Other ideas for better sleep include being mindful of caffeine and alcohol intake, screen time before bed. If you are waking up in the night, then try to think of why. Could it be that the heating clicks on every night when you're in a light sleep? Or is your bedroom too bright?

The key for managers is to make sleep part of the conversation, normalise sleep issues and not feel ashamed for being tired.

For more insights, log into ManagementDirect and search for ‘sleep’ to find articles exploring the issue – including one that found a “lack of sleep can put us at a distinct disadvantage if we hold a position of responsibility and manage a team.”

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