How Sleep Paves the Way for Better Mental Health at Work
29 October 2022
In the U.S., it takes 11 years on average for a person struggling with mental health concerns to reach out for help, if they ever do at all. For many people, reaching out for help feels like a threat, and they're often unsure if they genuinely need a therapist.
While we're getting better about it, with the days of "take it on the chin" starting to fade, there’s unfortunately still a stigma surrounding mental health care.
In recent years, the globally felt trauma of the pandemic has increased mental health issues by 25% according to the World Health Organization1 with women and young people hurt the worst. Nowhere is that felt more than in the workplace.
A burgeoning body of evidence supports a connection between emotional well-being and its economic impact on companies through direct and indirect costs. Some of the direct costs include healthcare costs, and costs related to illness. While indirect costs include increased absenteeism and productivity loss. This knowledge motivates leaders to take action.
One such action is prioritizing sleep. Put simply, sleep is something everyone does, so addressing sleep is accepted and detached from stigma. In addition, sleep reduces mental health anguish and augments qualities that make for a joyful work experience.
If you want to support better mental health in your employees, helping them improve their sleep is an approachable place to start.
Studies show that when people are well-rested, anxiety and depression decrease2 and planning and creativity increase with a 400% increase in cognitive functioning.3
Approximately 66% of U.S. adults struggle to sleep every single week.4
When sleep-deprived, mood suffers the most as we struggle to feel optimistic and confident and are more susceptible to paranoia.Our coping mechanisms are hindered, too. The area of the brain associated with executive function gets powered down when sleep deprived and the amygdala (the part of our brain that helps us to feel fear) as well as other "primal" and "instinctual" parts of the brain are more active.
For example, without adequate sleep, we're more likely to cave in to cravings that fuel substance abuse issues. We also struggle to make a plan to overcome challenges we face at work when they arise in the workplace. Instead of a growth mindset, we're prone to a fixed mindset.
We're more likely to interpret faces as menacing, and may even blame work itself for why we feel bad (not our sleep). When these mental health issues persist, employees are more likely to ask for time off than reach out to a therapist. Absenteeism costs employers $1,700 per employee per year.5 Emerging science even suggests that employees are more likely to feel hostile in the workplace and quit their jobs.
Supporting your employees' sleep will help support their mental health without the stigma often attached to therapy. Furthermore, improving sleep has lasting effects on mental health, meaning that employees who take a work sabbatical for mental health reasons may not need one for as long.
Encouraging open dialogue about sleep among your team can help create a positive mental health culture in the workplace, instead of the toxic “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” culture, which is unfortunately common in many organizations
Sleep makes mental health worse and creates a vicious cycle. When we get a lousy night of sleep, our mental health suffers, and when our mental health suffers, it's more challenging to sleep. In fact, employees who sleep 6 hours per night or less are 2.5x more likely to suffer from poor mental health.6
If you're looking to soothe feelings of anxiety and depression, start with sleep.
As we've discussed, sleep is critical for mental health. When sleep improves, mental health improves, and there's no stigma attached to getting better sleep since we all have to do it.
While important, existing wellness solutions run the risk of leaving behind employees who do not perceive the need for therapy.
Taking your wellness solutions "back to basics" and focusing on sleep will not only improve your employees' personal lives and boost morale at work, but it will also improve company productivity.
Below are few quick ways that supporting sleep goes beyond what is currently offered:
Therapy is a useful tool in a mental health tool kit, but even therapy is supported by better sleep. As you can probably relate, if you are getting 4-5 hours of sleep per night, even with the best therapy, you will continue to suffer.
Chorus Sleep addresses the number one cause of sleep challenges: anxiety and worry. Our program teaches employees how to improve their sleep along with stress and anxiety, giving them actionable tools they can use to improve sleep quickly.
Everyone needs a break, but focusing solely on time off because of mental health concerns directly hinders productivity since time off doesn’t fix the problem; it only provides a short break from it. In addition, if an employee needs to take a long period of time off for mental health reasons, it can cause stress on the rest of the team.
Focusing on sleep can remove the impact of work-related stress before it becomes a problem, and it can make normal vacations even more restful.
Then there is sleep tracking…..
Research finds that while many apps help track your sleep, they do not improve it. In fact, for some people, simply seeing the sleep numbers (without a clear solution) can trigger anxiety that causes even greater sleep concerns. These apps fail to provide a solution.
Chorus Sleep tracks sleep AND teaches people how to improve it with short, interactive content and nightly relaxation techniques that soothe the nervous system more effectively than traditional methods. As a result, people fall asleep faster and get deeper sleep throughout the night.
There isn't a one-size-fits-all approach to improving mental health in the workplace. However, offering sleep as a solution eliminates the stigma and provides an effective route forward that is a win for employees and organizations.
Ready to improve your company's sleep? Bring Chorus to your organization. We are here when you need us.Footnotes
2 https://www.sleepfoundation.org/mental-health/ anxiety-and-sleep
3 Van Dongen HP, Maislin G, Mullington JM, Dinges DF. The cumulative cost of additional wakefulness: dose-response effects on neurobehavioral functions and sleep physiology from chronic sleep restriction and total sleep deprivation. Sleep. 2003 Mar 15;26(2):117-26. doi: 10.1093/sleep/26.2.117. Erratum in: Sleep. 2004 Jun 15;27(4):600. PMID: 12683469.
4 Walker, Matthew. 2018. Why We Sleep.
6 CDC; Blackwelder A, Hoskins M, Huber L. Effect of Inadequate Sleep on Frequent Mental Distress. Prev Chronic Dis 2021;18:200573. DOI