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Sleep, well-being and productivity in the workplace

Four UK-based organisations are collaborating with Dr Talar Moukhtarian, Warwick Medical School, to reduce sleep problems in shift-workers and improve their well-being and productivity. In the UK one in every three workers are affected by sleep problems, which results in around 200,000 working days being lost each year due to insufficient or poor sleep.

Sleep therapies and shift-work

In 2022, Dr Moukhtarian and her team developed a hybrid sleep and stress management programme Link opens in a new windowto improve workplace health, wellbeing and productivity in collaboration with industry partners across the Midlands region. The success of the programme highlighted a treatment gap for sleep problems that affected shift-workers, particularly blue-collar workers. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for insomnia (CBT-I), is the first line treatment when tackling insomnia, but requires consistent scheduling of sleep and wakefulness and periods of sleep restrictions, something that shift-workers cannot accommodate.

Sleep and productivity in manufacturing, construction and rail industries

To tackle this treatment-gap, Dr Moukhtarian’s team at Warwick, including postdoctoral fellow Dr. Amber Tout, in partnership with colleagues from Monash University, Melbourne, is now collaborating with construction, manufacturing, and rail industries – J.Murphy & Sons Limited, Lisi Aerospace, HSQE Partnership, and COLAS RAIL – to develop a sleep intervention specifically tailored to shift-workers. This partnership is co-producing a programme of interventions that embed within organisational culture to prevent and manage sleep issues at the start of employment, before employees develop problems. Severe problems with sleep lead to stress and anxiety in this population, sometimes called Shift Work Disorder (SWD), which is estimated to affect 26.5% of shift-workers.

Health and safety, and blue-collar sleeplessness

The research programme of workshops, discussion groups and interviews with industry managers and workers is complete and the therapeutic intervention, psycho-educational materials and digital CBT-I are in the final stages of review. Co-producing the programme with managers and workers has raised awareness, at all levels of these industries, of the impact of sleep quality on mental health, productivity and job satisfaction. Reducing the business cost of sickness absence, staff turnover, and workplace accidents and injuries is a business priority. The next research stage is to test the effectiveness of this intervention and analyse the return on investment of implementing this tailored sleep programme.

The economics of good sleep

There are a range of interventions and products available to companies aiming to improve the mental health and productivity of workforces, however none have been embedded into Health and Safety Executive regulations. Dr Moukhtarian’s evidence-based, shift-worker-focused sleep programme plans to demonstrate the health economics and business value so that it can be rolled out nationally as part of Health and Safety training. New funding will allow her to expand the steering consortium beyond its current partners, to include other industries, SMEs, unions, and government agencies and departments. The programme has already been endorsed by The Sleep Charity, The Rail Safety and Standards Board, and the Society of Occupational Medicine, as sleep disturbance in shift-work is not just an inconvenience, it is linked to both health and business risks, and we should be considering real-world interventions to improve working conditions.

"In many organisations, there are established health and safety regulations primarily focusing on physical safety, and in recent years, efforts have begun to incorporate mental health provisions as well. However, a significant gap remains in addressing the unique needs of shift workers, particularly regarding sleep. The ultimate objective, especially for shift-based organisations, is to integrate sleep considerations into health and safety protocols, including employee induction, training programmes, and potentially probationary reviews. It is crucial for organisations to monitor their employees' sleep patterns and assess how they may affect well-being, as sleep quality inevitably impacts work productivity."

Dr Moukhtarian, Assistant Professor in Mental Health, Warwick Medical School

Interested in partnering with the University of Warwick?