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A step towards deeper rest: Sleep aids and barriers

Sleep apps: The jury’s out

Unsure if sleep apps are worth the investment? 

Given sleep is a scarce resource in modern life, it’s vital we broaden our knowledge of how to ensure we get adequate rest. 

A new study published this week in the Oxford Academic journal Sleep offers new evidence that could convert sceptics of emerging sleep tools into firm believers.

Mental health organisation Unmind partnered with researchers at the University of Sussex to examine the impact of sleep apps on 300 UK adults struggling with poor sleep.

They found that using sleep apps just a few times a week can add 35 minutes of sleep per night. Not only that, but they found reductions in sleep disturbance and sleep-related impairments, such as poor attention. As a result, participants reported improvements in self-reported symptoms of mental health and productivity at work. 

These benefits extend beyond the individual to the organisation’s bottom line. Specifically, presenteeism decreased from 44% to 27% which, based on average earnings, could save an employer £5,049 per person over a year.

Despite the increasing number of app-based audio tools on the mHealth market, there has been no scientific evidence that confirms or denies their effectiveness until now. This research therefore makes a significant contribution in our understanding of how the general population might reap the rewards of digital sleep aids. 

Given financial wellbeing is under the spotlight, many organisations are reviewing their employee benefits. Offering discounts on sleep apps may provide an affordable route to improve mental wellbeing without fueling money-related stress.

Political instability: A hindrance

Ever since scientists uncovered the pivotal role of sleep for wellbeing, studies on factors that enhance and hamper nightly rest have flourished. Turning our attention to the latter, another recent piece of research published in Sleep Health found that divisive political events can negatively impact our sleep.

The authors, Cunningham et al., found that people reported lower quality sleep (as well as stress and negative emotions) in the days approaching the 2020 US election. In other words, major sociopolitical events can influence sleep and mental health. 

As we discussed in a recent guest blog, economic volatility and the unstable geopolitical climate have reduced our sense of safety in the world. Organisations should therefore look to offer support to their employees who are concerned about global unrest. This can be achieved by:

  • Establishing an appropriate political expression policy: This should be a specific, clear and concise outline of prohibited language, activities and behaviours as well as disciplinary action if violated. It’s important the policy is reasonable, communicated regularly and enforced consistently.
  • Creating a safe space for productive conversations: It can be tricky for employees to know how and when to discuss political events. Leadership and HR should exemplify respect and civility to promote greater understanding of differences. Setting up more informal, unstructured conversations between colleagues can also facilitate dialogue.

Date: 6th April 2023

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