Executive Health: Rest assured

A short stint in front of prime time television sees us peppered with public health messages. By turn we’re urged to exercise, eat well, drink less, look after our mental health and keep up regular screening checks.
But one thing that might enhance our health, wellbeing and productivity immensely is message that tells us to simply switch off and go to bed.
Regular, restful sleep has very important function in the maintenance of good health. However, it seems getting to bed at reasonable hour is something that’s slipped well down our ‘to do’ list.
A new survey of 1000 adults by Southern Cross Healthcare Group showed that 51 percent of people feel they get less sleep than they want or need. This figure was even higher for women, those under 40 and, quite understandably, those with children.
Of those surveyed, 34 percent averaged six or less hours sleep per day – at minimum, half an hour less than the 6.5 to 8.5 hours sleep needed by most adults, as outlined by the Australasian Sleep Association.
It’s well known that lack of sleep can affect our mood, responsiveness and productivity. But what is just beginning to be explored in more depth is the emerging link between reduced sleep and health issues such as obesity, diabetes, depression, low immunity and heart problems.
Of particular media interest has been the effect sleep deprivation can have on our waistline. According to the US National Sleep Foundation (NSF), sleep plays pivotal role in the normal function of the endocrine and immune systems. Not only does sleep deprivation tend to make us reach for mid-afternoon sugar hit, some studies have found correlation with low levels of the hormone leptin, causing the body to crave carbohydrates.
In the workplace, well-rested staff are essential to maintain safe working conditions, as well as good productivity.
The ageing workforce is also heightening the importance of sleep education. Changes to sleep are natural part of the ageing process. As we age, we tend to spend more time in the ‘light’ stages of sleep. However, contrary to popular opinion, the NSF says there is little research to suggest we need less sleep. Older people also tend to both wake and retire to bed earlier – something that may need to be taken into consideration when setting shifts or schedules.
The older age of first time parents is another area where sleep – or lack of it – may be affecting your workplace. With growing number at executive level delaying parenthood into their late 30s, the most sleep-deprived person in your office might also be the one making key business decisions.
With such an important role to play, sleep education can pay dividends as part of workplace health and wellbeing programme.
Initiatives could include ‘sleeping well’ seminar, or bringing in health professional to offer advice on an individual level. Addressing the causes of workplace stress and establishing culture of good work-life balance should also be considered in tandem with sleep advice. M

Peter Tynan is chief executive of Southern Cross Health Society.

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