A little while ago I posted an article on LinkedIn on my thoughts about work life balance. I received a fantastic response from men and women facing similar challenges to me. In that article, I said I was still working on trying to find space in my busy life to look after myself, my mind and my body.
I can happily tick off things that are going well at the moment: plenty of exercise, good eating habits and cutting back on alcohol but in all honesty, I struggle to get a decent night’s sleep. I have spent a great deal of time focusing on good sleeping habits (thanks to an awful bout of insomnia that knocked me for six) and thankfully I seem to be going in the right direction (without the help of sleeping tablets). My own experience has led me to wonder whether in today’s world and in particular in the work place we focus enough on the importance of sleep.
For me, there are not enough hours in the day and sleep is something I need to get out of the way in order to get on with my to do list. Plus, I like many others, have allowed modern technology to creep into the bedroom. Yes, I check my emails before the light goes off. Yes, I have a quick look at Facebook and Twitter. Yes, I have a TV in my bedroom. And despite my best efforts, 9 times out of 10 at least one of my kids has a phone tucked under the pillow. It has got to stop but I haven’t found the discipline yet to make a change. Until now.
A work colleague recommended “Why We Sleep” by Matthew Walker and said it was “life-changing”. It has not quite changed my life yet but it is certainly an eye opener. Walker, a neuroscientist, says that getting 7-9 hours of sleep a night is not some luxury to aim for but an absolute necessity in order for the brain to process new information and to maintain a healthy body. Just a few nights of insufficient sleep can weaken the immune system and increase the risks of developing a serious illness. Walker calls sleep deprivation an epidemic. What can we do about it? Walker offers some great tips, his number 1 piece of advice is to set a sleep schedule, always going to bed and waking up at the same time, even at the weekends (not unfamiliar advice, my Nan always used to say that it is not the hours after midnight that count, but the hours before). Walker suggests setting an alarm for bedtime to encourage you to stick to it.
I have asked myself whether in the workplace we place enough emphasis on our employees’ need for sleep. Walker argues that under-slept employees are not only less productive, less motivated, less creative, less happy and lazier, but they are also more unethical, more vulnerable to the risk of disrepute. He suggests that small changes to our working practices could make all the difference, for example, offering courses to employees on the benefits of sleep, along with some practical tips on how to achieve a good night’s sleep, adopting a more flexible approach to working to allow employees to time their daily work hours according to their individual rhythms, creating dedicated sleeping areas for a day time power nap. Walker makes a compelling case for addressing the problem of sleep deficit in the workplace. Things have to change in order to create sustainability.
At Sky, we have a Live Well programme that promotes the benefit of a healthy lifestyle (including good sleeping habits) to all employees and we have also embraced flexible working. People in my team (myself included) often comment on how much more productive they have been when using this flexibility to work from home, enabling them to cut out the commute and start their day a bit later. At Sky we have also launched our new Sky Values, one of which is “Creative and Action-Orientated”. I would love to boost my own ability to come up with fresh ideas and give my team the space and time to do the same. I wonder whether better sleep is the key….
That’s all I have to say on the subject for now, am off to buy a new alarm clock…
Claire Canning is a Director in the Legal team at Sky