How business leaders can support staff dealing with sleep issues

Dr Nerina Ramlakhan

It might sound strange to say that business leaders have a duty of care to ensure that their staff are able to get a good night’s sleep, but they do. Why is this the case?

It is not rocket science, but the fact of the matter is, the way we sleep is a reflection of how we spend our waking hours.  If these waking hours are spent in a reasonable state of peace and balance, then we stand a good chance of putting our head on the pillow at the end of the day and getting a good night’s sleep.  In other words, when we feel good, we sleep better.

To take it one step further:

                                    We sleep when we feel safe.

Allow me to explain.

I am a sleep expert and I have been helping people to optimise their sleep and energy levels for over two and a half decades.  My work takes me into various corporate environments, schools, media and I spent over a decade working in a psychiatric clinic in the City of London helping to rehabilitate people who were suffering from burnout and mental health problems.  For many years, I have been using the expression ‘we sleep when we feel safe’ and I ended up writing a book about this called Finding Inner Safety (Capstone, April 2022) during the recent pandemic when the issue of feeling safe really came to the fore.

But getting back to the responsibility of business leaders, when the organisational culture fosters and enables psychological safety, employees bring their best selves to work and take that home with them at the end of the day too – and they are able to sleep deeply and restoratively.  This is thriving rather than merely surviving.

Thriving is about living in the right part of your nervous system – the parasympathetic nervous system or so-called ‘rest and digest’ system.  It is about running on good, sustainable energy as opposed the short-lived, survival energy of adrenaline, cortisol and caffeine that so many have habituated to when they live in the wrong part of their nervous system – the sympathetic nervous system.

As we emerge from the pandemic into a world that seems even more uncertain and complex, a reset is needed.  One that enables employees to feel safe, to thrive and to sleep restoratively.

So how can businesses enable this?

I have some small but simple recommendations for business leaders and individuals everywhere:

  1. Start the day right – cultivate practices that enable you to hone your self-awareness e.g., meditation or mindfulness practice. It might be as simple as noticing a few breaths every morning before you get out of bed and before you reach for your phone.  Take this presence and self-awareness into your day, into your personal relationships and the work environment.  Starting your day right just might help you to make better choices as you navigate through your busy days, choices that help to create environments of psychological safety.
  1. Encourage healthy boundaries – especially now that most employees are adopting a hybrid model of working and the boundaries between work and home have become even more blurred. Encourage employees to build intermittent recovery into their days in line with their physiological rhythms and limits of their concentration.  This means taking at least a 3-5 min break from screens and meetings every 90mins or so to move, breathe mindfully, eat, hydrate, practice gratitude or get out into natural daylight.  There are myriad ways in which this can be done.  For more on this watch my TEDx ‘Come to work and rest’:
  1. Email & meeting hygiene – related to the above, dissuade employees from sending emails after work hours, weekends and while on holiday. Encourage shorter meetings with 5-10 mins recovery time post meetings. 
  1. Encourage supportive and networked communication in which employees can share if they are struggling and it is safe to use the word ‘help’. Too many people are leaving their companies – the so-called ‘Great Resignation’ because they feel without choice and unable to ask for help when they are struggling.
  1. Education and Awareness around Wellbeing – introduce initiatives that help employees to understand how to optimise their energy levels and wellbeing when working in these pressurised and uncertain times.
  1. Focus on ‘being the change’. This means role modelling the behaviours and practices described above that enable you to be well, sleep well, and turn up to work energised, inspired and resilient.  Energy is contagious and when you feel and look well, others feel it and are more likely to follow suit.  This is how psychologically safe and healthy organisational cultures are created.

Finally, a workforce that is healthy and well rested will have a direct impact on your business’s bottom line.  There is a reason why nature has designed us to spend a third of our lives sleeping and employees who feel safe enough to sleep deeply after their day’s work will be firing on all cylinders the next day and on every level – physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.  They will turn up to work as their best selves with good vitality and engagement, feeling laser-focused, creative and inspired.

For more information on Dr Nerina’s workshops, webinars and keynotes check out https://drnerina.com/

Her books and meditations are available on Amazon.

Dr Nerina Ramlakhan is a neurophysiologist who has specialised in maximising individual and organisational performance for over two decades. After completing her post-doctoral training and research into the effects of lifestyle interventions on the alleviation of mental disorders, she spent five years in corporate health screening before studying organisational psychiatry and psychology at Guys Hospital and beginning organisational consultancy, workshop facilitation and coaching.  For over a decade she worked with the Nightingale Psychiatric Hospital in London on their sleep, energy and physical health programmes that are designed to support mental wellbeing.

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Dr Neina is the bestselling author of several books about sleep, including Finding Inner Safety – the key to healing, thriving and preventing burnout (Capstone 2022), released 7th April 2022.

Web: www.drnerina.com

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