If employees suffer from insomnia, how can an employer manage the knock-on effects? Joanne Christie looks at the options and legal implications.
According to a study published in the October 2010 issue of the journal SLEEP, sleep disturbances increase both the likelihood of employees taking time off work and the time it takes them to return to work after absences. In the study of more than 56,000 Finnish workers, researchers found that those reporting problems sleeping were more likely to suffer from mental and physical illnesses and to retire early.
A study published in 2007 by researchers at Keele University found that 37% of adults in the UK suffered from insomnia, and that for 69% of those, the condition persisted for at least one year. With other studies also suggesting up to 50% of the population suffers from insomnia at some point, and with a further 2% to 4% suffering from sleep apnoea, it is clear that poor sleep is widespread.
What is less clear, however, is the extent to which this situation is being monitored and managed by employers. While many have begun to embrace lifestyle and wellbeing initiatives, sleep remains ignored by most occupational health practitioners, says Dr Les Smith, medical director at Health and Wellbeing UK.
He says: "Most people have looked at lifestyle and other health factors such as cholesterol, blood pressure, weight and obesity, but people have always missed that sleep has a huge impact on wellbeing and can be linked to physical diseases.
"In the workplace there is a huge demand for looking at performance at work. If you're sleep deprived, if you haven't slept well, it affects all the parts of your brain that you need - your ability to concentrate and be innovative and creative - and so there is definitely an effect on performance."
In some cases, such as for those diagnosed with sleep apnoea - a condition that causes sufferers to stop breathing during sleep - the effect on a person's ability to function is so severe that the condition must be reported to driving licence body the DVLA, says Myles Black, an ear, nose and throat surgeon at The Private Clini