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“I’m Just Resting My Eyelids…”

The scandal of the appalling treatment meted out to patients (and staff) at Stafford Hospital has been in the news recently. The awful tale of a hospital board so obsessed with cost-cutting that it refused to listen to the complaints of patients and staff and ultimately damaged the fabric of the organisation. Hospitals are supposed to make us feel better, not kill us off….. It’s not a place one would feel comfortable turning to for advice.

We all need a bit of help with our health and fitness from time to time. Let’s take chronic tiredness, which affects a huge number of people in the UK. Vielife, a provider of health and wellness solutions, published a report in April last year which found that of 40,000 European workers, 50% slept seven hours or less a night, and one in four reported feeling either unrefreshed or exhausted even after sleeping.

If waking up in a zombie-like state of grogginess wasn’t enough, poor sleepers are more likely to feel dissatisfied with their jobs, suffer higher rates of depression and feel like they have little personal control over their work. It’s enough to make you want to pop a Prozac!

Lack of sleep has a real effect on the body and mind and will affect workplace performance as well. The last thing we want is for a decline in productivity and employee wellbeing in this tough economic climate.

Whether it’s the time of year and the lack of Vitamin D coursing through our systems that’s to blame– who knows. Many of us have trouble sleeping at night for various reasons. Money-stress will probably rank in the top three, particularly as people are still feeling the pinch on their wallets a month and a half after Christmas. In the worst cases sleep deprivation can result in terrible accidents at work.

Consider the jobs that require high concentration, like driving or operating a piece of dangerous machinery. It’s paramount that your workers are concentrating and fully lucid the entire time they are working. Anything else could end in disaster. Research into accidents at paint plants has indicated that there is a significant increase in the likelihood of an accident occurring in the last three hours of the shift when workers become more tired.

Employers are expected to understand and manage the levels of sleep deprivation experienced by your employees, especially if it adversely affects the safety of the workplace. You’re not expected to make sure that employees are all tucked in at night with their hot chocolate and someone’s there to read them a bedtime story, but if you have a inkling that one or more of your employees is suffering from a lack of sleep, ask them some simple questions to find out whether or not this is the case. Encouraging them to keep a ‘sleep log’ may help to identify whether they are suffering from a lack of sleep quality or quantity.

The HSE recommends that in order to manage fatigue, employers should make sure that:

  • working hours are not too long;
  • employees get enough rest in between shifts;
  • employees don’t work too many night shifts in a row;
  • managers fit in with employees’ preferences – some people will prefer to work nights;
  • the environment doesn’t cause drowsiness; and
  • there are contingency plans to avoid overloading one person with overtime or double shifts.

If you find yourself ‘dropping off’ in an afternoon meeting, here are a few tips to use yourself, or to pass onto your workers to give an energy boost:

  • Take a walk outside at lunchtime. Soaking up natural light slows the production of melatonin, the hormone which makes us sleepy.
  • Move around the office from time-to-time – changing your position allows oxygen to get to your brain and then you’ll feel less dopey.
  • Take ginseng instead of reaching for the Nescafe or Redbull. A natural Chinese stimulant, it strengthens the immune system and fights fatigue and can be brought as either a capsule or as a tonic.
  • Drink some water. People often feel tired simply because they are dehydrated.
  • Install proper lighting. Full spectrum lighting simulates daylight and will boost energy levels.
  • Go leafy-green. According to research plants help us to stay awake. Peace lilies, Kentia palm and fine-leafed figs are great at absorbing pollutants and chemicals in the atmosphere.
  • Suck on a mint. Not only great for neutralising your breath after lunch, but menthol or peppermint sweets clears the airways so you breathe more easily.

Irrespective of an employee’s willingness to work extra hours, employers have a legal duty to manage risks from fatigue. If the signs of tiredness are there, don’t just ignore them – act on them.

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