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You are your own pacemaker

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Restorative sleep out of sync: if at night your thoughts whirl and your mind churns in agitation, it is time to change your habits. Sleep consultant Markus Kamps prescribes routines for healthy sleep management.

A factor in wellbeing and overall performance of which people are frequently unaware is that of restorative sleep. Sleep has an impact on both our body and our mind. A person who has slept well has energy and reacts to stress situations in a more relaxed way. Good sleep is linked to further factors: exercise, a work-life balance which promotes recovery, and healthy diet – without which mobility and healthy sleep are not possible. To establish these four major cornerstones of health, a structured daily routine is necessary – a rhythm for a healthy lifestyle.

People mostly adapt this rhythm to the demands of their job. Getting up in the morning, taking breaks, overtime, commuting routines are oriented frequently towards the demands and culture of the business. Thus the workplace acts as the pacemaker for private life. This can be an advantage, but also a disadvantage. People get out of sync, for instance, if they spend the commuting time which they have saved in the home office by just staying in bed, finding in the evening no end to their availability for the team at the job, or find no sport to replace physical activity on the daily bike ride to work. The consequences may be sleep disturbances, feelings of stress, depression or physical complaints.       

Everything begins with the last night

How did you sleep? Did you lie awake in bed, or did you get up several times in the night? Or couldn’t you get to sleep at all, trapped as your thoughts went round and round and listening to the sleep noises of the person in the bed next to you? How long did it take till you got out of bed? A study by the University of Basel on sleeping habits during the lockdown when people are working from home (Blume, Schmidt, Cajochen, 2020) has shown that people using a home office sleep about 50 minutes longer a day, but that the quality of their sleep has deteriorated. The study’s authors use the concept of “social jetlag” to describe the difference between sleeping times during working days with those on non-working days. Working in a home office seems to offer more flexibility to reduce this disparity. People working in a home office, concluded the authors of the study, may have listened better to their biological clock. At the same time, those surveyed reported that the quality of their sleep had deteriorated. The claims of the workplace as a pacemaker, but also a leisure attitude attuned to activity, receded into the background during lockdown – and yet sleep doesn’t go well?     

Reasons for too little restorative sleep, or actual sleep disturbances, can be very individual and dependent on numerous factors. In general, the harmonious interplay of the four cornerstones of health is vital. If, for instance, you drink more alcohol when working from a home office, or smoke more – both of which were the case during the coronavirus lockdown – this can have a detrimental effect on sleep. A heavy meal in the evening, or lack of exercise, can also disturb the equilibrium of wellbeing by disturbing the quality of sleep. A handout, “Eight recommendations for sleep management when working from home” draws the most important recommendations together.

The pacemaker

The general performance and mental health of employees working from a home office – but in the workplace itself, too – can, at least to some extent, escape the notice of their managers. Once the problems become blatant, the crisis is already there – with consequential costs. As part of their occupational-health management, companies can choose from a broad range of webinars, self-tests or workshop providers, in order to provide their staff with initial pointers to self-analysis.

In the workplace breaks are not supposed to be a taboo and facilities for taking them are provided. And, as described above, working hours which suit individual employees’ sleep preferences and can be chosen flexibly also reduce the “social jetlag.” Shift workers are particularly affected by this, among whom the harmful effects of the changing sleep rhythm on circulation, heart and metabolism have long been known. In some companies with shift systems studies have been conducted which analysed an accommodation by the system to individual sleep preferences as conducive to good health.

Bad communication habits, such as delegation e-mails on Friday evening, or job-related instructions after the close of work, ought to be absolute exceptions in a health-conscious working environment, in order to counteract the destruction of boundaries between leisure time and working hours. In such matters of health well-trained managers are key figures when it comes to establishing health and thus restorative sleep as a value in their corporate culture by acting as role models.  

 

Takeaways

  • Restorative sleep is closely connected with exercise,
    diet and work-life balance (four cornerstones of health).
  • Rest facilities should also be offered at work for people to sleep.
  • Flexible working hours which staff can arrange to suit their sleep preferences support individual sleep management.
  • In a health-conscious working environment communication habits which destroy the boundary between leisure time and working hours are to be avoided.

Markus Kamps: https://www.schlafkampagne.de/
Source: Penso – HR, social insurance, staff pensions
https://www.penso.ch/rubriken/gesundheit/der-taktgeber-sind-sie-selbst/