The Brain needs Sleep

Lack of sleep costs Australian businesses billions.

Lack of sleep has become a "worldwide epidemic". There's increasing evidence that sleep deprivation is bad for your health, your wellbeing, and even bad for your relationships. Not only that, our lack of sleep is costing the world and businesses billions of dollars.

Insufficient sleep is now a ‘public health problem’. Evidence indicates the proportion of people sleeping less than the recommended hours of sleep is rising. Health experts recommend adults sleep 7 to 9 hours a day to function at peak performance, though sleep needs can vary from person to person.

Lack of sleep this day and age is due mainly to lifestyle factors and bad habits.

In this modern world we are connected to technology 24/7. We work long days, check our emails at all hours of the night and binge watch TV or Netflix before bed.

During the day we drink too much coffee, too much alcohol, smoke, don’t get enough physical exercise. Plus, we are all under larger amounts psychological stress from competing work, deadlines, financial pressures, relationship issues, or just due to the busyness of living in this fast-paced world. Or some of us also may just have the option and belief that sleep seems like a perfectly fine waste of time! Failure to give sleep sufficient priority is through choice and ignorance.

All these factors disrupt our natural sleep cycle, creating disturbances in sleep leading to conditions such as Insomnia and Sleep Apnoea.


The downside of insufficient sleep is obvious.

First of all, we have all felt the effects when we miss out on a few hours of slumber. It's far more difficult to focus at work or school, to communicate clearly or even drive safely when you're tired.  Our motivation, energy, productivity and joy in life decreases.

The more worrying effects of sleep deprivation aren’t so obvious though in the day to day functioning.

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S, people getting insufficient sleep are more likely to suffer from chronic diseases such as hypertension, stroke, diabetes, depression and obesity, as well as from cancer.

Not only that, sleep deprivation is associated with a higher mortality. Economic modelling of data from five OECD countries found that individuals who sleep fewer than six hours a night on average have a 13 per cent higher mortality risk than people who sleep at least seven hours.

Secondly, these behaviours aren't just bad for our personal health — they also take a massive collective toll on the global economy. Insufficient sleep is known to result in lower productivity at work and a higher number of employees who call in sick. 

A study in the journal SLEEP, published by Oxford University Press found lack of sleep is a growing problem that costs the Australian economy more than $66 billion in lost productivity, workplace injuries, car accidents and illnesses.

Lack of sleep is associated with reduced attention, motivation, problem-solving ability as well as confusion, irritability, memory lapses and impaired communication and judgment. People are dragging themselves into work, but not work nearly as efficiently.

The brain needs sleep – even if you think you don’t!

Sleep is an essential pillar for wellness. It’s a time when the immune system is strong, the body repairs, rejuvenates and. In the brain, sleep is for forming and consolidating memories and plays a central role in the formation of new neuronal connections and the refining of old ones (resulting in more mental capacity during the day).

A series of studies in 2013 published in the journal Science (Xie et al.), found that sleep also plays an important role in our brain's physiological maintenance. As we sleep, the brain clears out all the mental ‘junk’/ toxins that builds up during the day as a result of thinking. It’s working like a mental janitor!

A restless night and insufficient sleep disturbs the brain's normal metabolism and affects our cognitive function greatly.

What does this mean for businesses?

Small changes to sleep duration could have a big impact on the economy. For example, if individuals that slept under six hours started sleeping six to seven hours then this could add $226.4 billion to the U.S. economy. This could add $75.7 billion to the Japanese economy, $34.1 billion to the German economy, $29.9 billion to the UK economy and $12 billion to the Canadian economy. (RAND Corporation)

Basically, if your employee hasn’t had at least 7 hours of sleep – send them home!

Some recommendations for companies: the research indicates a need to set time limits on when supervisors can send emails, to ensure employees aren't overworked. Employers could recognise the importance of sleep and the employer’s role in its promotion. It's really important to start building a culture that values sleep; design and build brighter workspaces; adopt interventions to support them in getting a good night’s sleep such workplace wellness programs and initiatives to build resilience; combat workplace psychological risks to help employees manage and minimise the damaging effects of stress which is a major cause of poor sleep; and discourage the extended use of electronic devices.

Recommendations for Individuals:

Individuals should take steps to ensure we get our optimum level of sleep. That might mean switching off the smartphone and disconnecting from technology at least 1.5 hours before bedtime; turning off the TV earlier; leaving work at work; looking at diet, exercise and lifestyle practices; set goals and routines around getting to bed earlier and set consistent wake up times; or learning to meditate to deal with stress and address the anxiety that can keep you up at night.


Author: Tegan Wallis

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Tegan is an Naturopath, Ayurveda Health Consultant and Yoga Teacher at Griffith Consulting's sister company, Veda Wellness.

Tegan is one of Griffith Consulting's key program facilitators and specialises in workplace health & wellness. 

For more information about Tegan or her services, please go to: 

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