Why Sleep is Important for Employee Mental Health - woman with hand on head feeling tired at desk

Why Sleep is Important for Employee Mental Health

Haeli Harris
March 10, 2023
October 9, 2022

March 12th marks the beginning of National Sleep Awareness Week 2023. Now is a great time to revisit your sleep hygiene and support this crucial area of your health and wellbeing.

According to the Psychiatric Times, having good sleep hygiene is one of the pillars of mental health. The theory of Therapeutic Lifestyle Change and research on the Dimensions of Wellness also support the fact that sleep is a necessary aspect of wellbeing.

Even though most know the importance of sleep, it seems to be the easiest to neglect. From staying up late to finish a project or saying we will “catch up” on our sleep during the weekend, sleep is disregarded or pushed aside for another time. However, we need sleep in order to give our mind and body a reset, process the day’s events, and remove toxins from the body.

During deep sleep, the brain is able to process emotions. According to the National Library of Medicine, during REM sleep, the executive functions of our brain are able to take a back seat and the limbic networks, which support emotional processing, are able to help the brain regulate emotions and process any traumatic events. This deep sleep can help resolve distress or trauma that may have happened during the day.

However, if that REM sleep doesn’t occur, those emotions may not be processed and can lead to further distress. Hence, why sleep is so important for mental health.

What Determines Good Sleep Quality?

Sleep quality is the measurement of how well someone is sleeping and whether it is restful and restorative or not. Many measurements go into determining sleep quality. According to The National Sleep Foundation, they are:

  • Sleep Latency: How long it takes you to fall asleep
  • Sleep Waking: How often you wake up during the night
  • Wakefulness: How many minutes you spend awake during the night
  • Sleep Efficiency: How much time you spend asleep in your bed

In order to get a measurement of sleep quality, all of these things need to be within a certain range. For ideal sleep quality, one should only take about thirty minutes to fall asleep (sleep latency), only wake up once or less during the night (sleep-waking), have twenty minutes or less of wakefulness in the night (wakefulness), and 85% of your time actually spend sleeping in bed (sleep efficiency).

The National Sleep Foundation suggests finding your sleep quality like this: First, find your actual sleeping duration. Take your total time in bed (in minutes) minus how many minutes it took you to fall asleep and minus how many minutes you spent awake during the night. Divide that figure (actual sleeping time) by your total time in bed (in minutes). Finally, multiply that number by 100 to arrive at your sleep efficiency percentage.

For example: 480 (total minutes in bed) – 30 (minutes to fall asleep) – 0 (minutes awake during the night) = 450 (actual sleep time in minutes). 450 / 480 = .9375 x 100 = 93.75% sleep efficiency.

A good exercise for National Sleep Awareness Week is to calculate your sleep quality for the past couple of days and assess how your sleep currently stands.

How to Incorporate Good Sleep Hygiene into Daily Life

Establishing great sleep hygiene starts from the minute you wake up in the morning. Starting your day with physical movement and a healthy breakfast is already preparing your body for a good night’s sleep. Continuing to nourish your body with whole foods throughout the day will also prepare your mind and body for sleep. Kristen Peairs, a registered dietitian for Nivati, says in her article, The Employee’s Guide to the Best and Worst Foods for Sleep: “to consume some omega-3 fatty-acid-rich foods such as salmon, walnuts, and flax seeds. These healthy fats help encourage calm in our bodies and brains.”

Screen Usage

Why Sleep is Important for Employee Mental Health - woman with hand on temple feeling tired at desk

Limiting screen usage throughout the day is also crucial for a good night’s rest. Using screens throughout your day is unavoidable in this day and age. However, avoiding screens at night will help your brain calm down before bed. Screen use hyperactivates the brain, and if screens are being looked at right before bed, it can lead to difficulty falling asleep. It is suggested to avoid screens at least two hours before you want to fall asleep.

Stress Management

Another important element to incorporate into your daily routine is stress management. Managing stress throughout the day leads to a more restful sleep at night. And the brain is better able to process that stress if it is managed. Some simple ways to manage daily stressors can be taking deep breaths in moments of anxiety, limiting time spent on social media, practicing yoga or meditation, and drinking plenty of water.

Daily Movement

Lastly, one of the best things you can do for your sleep during the day is to engage in at least thirty minutes of physical activity. Daily movement can help a lot of mental and physical ailments. Physical activity not only helps you sleep better, but it can help manage stress, improve physical health and improve overall mental health. There isn’t one type of physical movement that is better than another. The key is to find movement you enjoy so that you can stay consistent. This can be anything from yoga to running to weight training. It can also be helpful to try a wide variety of movements to keep from becoming bored.

To avoid overwhelm, try implementing one thing at a time. Even doing one of the above will improve sleep quality. Dr. Alexis Custard-Mobley LPC-S, LCDC, ADS, a Nivati therapy provider, suggests, “If you struggle, remember you can apply The 3 R’s Model of Sport and Performance Psychology of Recognize, Regroup, and Refocus. Recognize that you made a mistake. Regroup by releasing feelings you may have as a result. Refocus by focusing attention back to the task at hand.”

Routine, Routine, Routine

The importance of routine can’t be stressed enough. As humans, we are creatures of habit. And bedtime routines create habits that let our brain know that it is time for sleep. By performing the same activities, in the same order, the brain will start to recognize those activities as a precursor to sleep.

A good sleep routine can include a myriad of things. However, there are a few essentials that need to be in a successful bedtime routine.

First, set an actual bedtime and stick to it.

Second, like mentioned above, leave electronics alone at least two hours before bed.

Third, perform nightly hygiene such as brushing teeth and using the restroom.

Lastly, incorporate some sort of relaxing activity. This can be taking a warm bath, meditating, or reading a book. Once a routine is decided upon, the most important part is to be consistent.

Along with a nighttime routine, prepping your space for sleep is crucial. The most common ways to prep your space for sleep is to declutter the room, keep the room at a cooler temperature, block out all outside light and have some sort of white noise.

The best way to get these habits to stick is to tackle one thing at a time. Choose one area of sleep hygiene you feel is doable and be consistent with that for two weeks. Then, once that one habit has become routine, you can add in another element.

If you are a night owl and find it hard to get to bed earlier, try going to bed earlier in fifteen-minute increments. For example, if you typically go to bed at midnight, try going to bed at 11:45 p.m. After doing that for a week, try to go to bed at 11:30 p.m. and so on and so forth until you reach your desired bedtime.

How Does Quality Sleep Affect Mental Health?

As mentioned previously, quality sleep improves mental health because the brain is able to process emotions during the REM cycle. But there are a lot of other factors of good sleep that contribute to mental health in a positive way, such as giving the body and mind energy for the following day. Feeling tired, lethargic, and low on energy can contribute to feelings of depression and anxiety.

Quality sleep can also impact the body’s immune system. According to the Mayo Clinic, “your immune system releases proteins called cytokines, some of which help promote sleep. Certain cytokines need to increase when you have an infection or inflammation or are under stress. Sleep deprivation may decrease the production of these protective cytokines.” Not only does sleep impact the immune system in the body, but quality sleep also aids in weight regulation and fertility.

Sleep plays a crucial role in keeping the physical body healthy, and when the body is healthy, it is much easier to keep the mind healthy.

Why Good Sleep Quality is Important for Employees

The benefits of good sleep are undeniable. Not only does it help individuals in their personal life, but it helps them at work as well.

When an individual comes to work well-rested, they are able to perform at a higher level than if they came to work exhausted. Their mind will be more clear, and they will be able to work more efficiently and generally have a better attitude.

Good sleep can also help employees physically as well. As we know, good sleep boosts the immune system. This can translate into employees taking less sick leave.

According to Dr. Custard-Mobley, “poor sleep can make it difficult for one to deal with daily stressors and cause issues with thinking more clearly. Sleep deprivation affects psychological states and can trigger other mental health disorders or make existing symptoms worse.”

Sleep is often overlooked, especially in the workplace. It is easy to fall into the mentality of, “I will sleep when I am dead” to justify staying up late to finish a project or to get ahead. However, instead of getting ahead, you are actually setting yourself back.

Maintaining good sleep habits will benefit you tenfold than staying up late to do extra work.

As we enter National Sleep Awareness Week, be sure to keep these tips in mind to improve your sleep quality.

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Haeli Harris
Haeli Harris
Haeli Harris, LMFT is the Director of Clinical Operations at Nivati. She has been practicing as a Marriage and Family Therapist since 2014. Haeli has experience working as a therapist in private practice settings, residential facilities, outpatient treatment care, schools, and telehealth.