Man working at night

(No) Sleeping on the job: Hybrid work and your sleep habits

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, the world has changed significantly. Even after the government removed its most recent work from home mandate for England in late January 2022, hybrid working is here to stay. In January 2022, 84% of workers who had to work from home because of the pandemic planned to continue hybrid working in the future. By February 2022, just 8% of workers who had to work from home due to COVID-19 had returned to their place of work full time.

4 in 5 employees who worked at home for some point during the pandemic in some capacity said that being able to work from home improved their work/life balance. Yet while employees have reacted positively to this new world, there is a risk that hybrid working can impact negatively on your ability to get a good night’s rest.

World Sleep Day

That's why, for World Sleep Day, we’ve produced an animation of our top tips to improve sleep hygiene to get a better night’s rest — check it out. We won’t even be offended if you nod off while watching!

How are hybrid workers sleeping?

The animation is useful because the truth is that, sometimes, hybrid workers aren’t getting the sleep they need.

One American study found that up to 71% of full-time US were working from home at least some of the time in February 2022, up from 20% before the pandemic. At the same time, 40% of adults say they’ve been sleeping less and suffering lower quality sleep.1

It’s perhaps not surprising when you consider that the pandemic and hybrid working have:

Increased screen time

Blue light from screens disrupts sleeping patterns by mimicking the same wavelength as daylight and throwing the body’s natural clock — the circadian rhythm — out of whack.

Blurred boundaries between work and home life

This can make it difficult to switch off and unplug from work in the evening.

Introduced technology that makes people more contactable

This means employees can receive notifications and work-related messages even outside of work hours.

Disrupted routines

Consistent bedtime routines and regular sleeping and waking times support good sleep, but getting up and going to sleep at different times on different days depending on whether the following day is an office day or a remote working day throws routines out of kilter.

Increased time spent indoors

Being outside exposed to daylight, especially in the morning, can support natural sleep cycle and rhythms.2

Reduced time spent moving

Exercise is key to improving sleep.3 With shorter commutes in particular, people are often moving less while working remotely.

Increased general stress levels/anxieties

Understandably, the past 2 years have seen people worried about big topics, such as finances, their health and the safety of their loved ones.

The impact of poor sleep

The NHS suggests the average adult needs 7-9 of good-quality sleep each night to function properly.4

However, few Brits were getting this much sleep even before the pandemic. Just 14% of British adults said that they’d sleep for 8 hours per night on average over the past week in June 2019. Despite hybrid working potentially leaving more time to sleep in the mornings, this had improved only marginally, to 17%, by March 2022.5

Aside from the obvious fatigue and trouble focussing, there can be wider health issues stemming from prolonged poor sleep, including obesity, low immunity, reduced fertility, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.6 On top of the health consequences, up to 20% of road crashes in the UK can be attributed in some way to fatigue.7

Compounding the dire health risks for sleep-deprived employees, there’s a hit to businesses in terms of productivity. Just 1-2 nights of poor sleep per week significantly increases the risk of sickness absence,8 and poor sleep costs the UK economy 1.86% of GDP annually — equivalent to £40.84 billion of lost output in 2021.9,10 

How to get better sleep

There’s been an increase in demand for medical intervention to improve sleep, even though the NHS states that sleeping pills are now rarely prescribed by GPs due to side effects and the risk of dependence.

There are 11 common medications mental health charity Mind lists that are licensed for NHS doctors to prescribe for insomnia (although some also have other uses, such as antihistamines prescribed for allergies).11 Despite the NHS saying that sleeping pills are now rarely prescribed, in the financial year 2021/22, there were 11.2 million prescriptions written in England alone for these medications, an increase of more than 110,000 prescriptions on the previous year.12

Given the NHS highlights the risks of resorting to sleeping tablets to get the rest , we all need make it important to explore all other avenues first and leave pharmaceutical intervention as a very last resort where everything else has failed. Instead, options such as cognitive behavioural therapy or improving sleep hygiene  are better first steps to improve workers’ ability to sleep as we adapt to a hybrid working world.

1 We’re Still Working From Home. And We Still Can’t Sleep, Sleep Foundation
How to Sleep Better, Sleep Foundation
Healthy sleep tips, Sleep Foundation
Insomnia, NHS
How many hours Brits sleep a night, YouGov
Physical Health and Sleep, Sleep Foundation
Driver fatigue, Brake
Trouble Sleeping Associated with Lower Work Performance and Greater Healthcare Costs, Kansas State Employee Wellness Program, October 2016
Why Sleep Matters: Quantifying the Economic Costs of Insufficient Sleep, RAND Corporation
Gross Domestic Product: chained volume measures: Seasonally adjusted (£m), Office for National Statistics, February 2023
Sleeping pills and minor tranquilisers, Mind
Prescription Cost Analysis (PCA), 2021/22, NHS Business Services Authority

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