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Sleep: Busting
the Myths

New research shows we spend roughly one third1  of our lives asleep. We all know sleep is essential for good general health, but with conflicting reports, constantly updated research and passed-on knowledge, we struggle to decipher fact from fiction. So, how much do you really know about good sleep?

Researchers at NYU School of Medicine2  combed through more than 8,000 websites and identified myths about sleep that are damaging to health. Lead study investigator Rebecca Robbins says: “Sleep is a vital part of life that affects our productivity, mood and general health and wellbeing.”

Whilst we spend one third of our lives asleep, we spend another third at work, making the workplace one of the most important environments for promoting and maintaining health. 75% of young professionals3  say a lack of sleep has affected their physical and emotional health, making them frustrated, less focussed and more impatient. Moreover 6.6 is the number of productive days lost each year4  due to employees sleeping less than seven hours a night. Lack of sleep seriously affects productivity at work – getting clued up on sleep has never been more crucial for employers.

Here, we explain the facts behind some of the misunderstandings about sleep.
FICTION
Adults can manage with five – or fewer – hours of sleep.
FACT
A consistent lack of sleep – fewer than five hours a night – has been linked to illnesses such as cardiovascular disease.

In the 2018 Health at Work Survey5, 37% of respondents said they were sleeping less than seven hours a night against 28% in 2015, and more than 44% reported problems with the quality of their sleep. 
What it means for you:
Sleep deprivation is linked to lower productivity at work and more recently companies around the world are starting to recognise the importance of sleep. NASA and Google have implemented sleep pods so that staff can take naps – a short power nap can significantly improve alertness and brain function. Over at Nike’s headquarters in Portland, Oregan they have rooms where employees can sleep or meditate and similarly at London-based contractors, Tideway, they involved their staff in extensive consultations to help design its new headquarters. They now offer yoga, pilates and quiet spaces to help with their employees’ wellbeing.
What can you do?
Seven to nine hours7  is the amount of sleep we should have. Good sleep habits8  will encourage good sleep. That means going to bed at the same time, whether on work days or days off, as it helps to regulate your body clock. Your bedroom should be quiet, dark and a comfortable temperature for you. Fitting in exercise into your day can also help you fall asleep more easily.
FICTION
An alcoholic drink helps you to fall asleep.
FACT
A nightcap might seem a good idea but drinking alcohol before bed disrupts sleep. It might make you feel sleepy but alcohol reduces the ability to achieve deep sleep, which is the type we need to function properly.
What it means for you:
There’s a current trend where more and more employers are offering alcohol as an incentive to employees which has seen a rise in drinks trolleys, fridges or bars in the workplace. A survey by Glassdoor found 11% of employees   say they have alcohol available to them at work. The good news is that as a nation we’re cutting back on our alcohol intake with the rising boom in non-alcoholic drink alternatives and a prediction that more than 13%  of us10 will abstain from alcohol by 2030.
What to drink instead
To give yourself the chance of a beneficial sleep, avoid all alcohol and caffeine in the evening. Instead, try a cup of chamomile tea. More than one million cups of chamomile11 are consumed every day by people who find its calming effects12  help them to nod off.
FICTION
Watching TV in bed helps you relax.
FACT
There’s no denying watching TV in bed is warm and cosy but it doesn’t help us wind down for a good sleep. Neither does being on our smartphones, tablets or laptops. “These devices emit a bright blue light, and that light is what tells our brain to become alive and alert in the morning,” Robbins explains, “so we need to avoid that blue light before bed and instead do things that relax you.” 
What can you do?
The simplest thing is to remove all devices from your bedroom and implement a cut-off time from using them. Reading a book or listening to a podcast is a better way of unwinding than looking at a bright screen.
What it means for you:
Procter & Gamble has installed lighting systems13 in its offices that regulate melatonin, the sleep hormone, to help employees switch off in the evenings. As we become attuned to the effects of blue light on sleep, more technologies are readily available to help combat the effects and improve employee health. 
FICTION
Snoring is harmless.
FACT
Although snoring is often harmless, if not a bit annoying, it can also be a sign of sleep apnoea . This is a serious and obstructive sleep disorder when your breathing stops and starts while you sleep.
What can you do?
Researcher, Rebecca Robbins, says “sleep apnoea14 is extremely exhausting and very underdiagnosed. We believe it affects about 30% of the population, and around 10% are diagnosed.” If you suffer from heavy snoring and broken sleep, consult your doctor.
What it means for you:
With The NHS increasingly stretched15, patients can expect longer wait times for GPs, this can be a contributing factor in putting off seeing a doctor. According to a recent Britain’s Healthiest Workplace study, £81 billion worth of productivity is lost every year as a result of employee ill-health. With Vitality’s Core Cover16, all members have access to a GP within 48 hours.

For a comprehensive resource bank on sleep, visit The Sleep Council17.