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The importance of sleep to wellbeing


Friday 19 February 2016


Marcus de Guingand - Third Pillar of Health Ltd


Do you often take work home with you? Answer your emails in bed even after the lights are out? Struggle to focus during work days because you wake up during the early hours thinking about the day ahead?

If this sounds like you then you need to listen in to our first webinar of 2016 – The importance of sleep to wellbeing.

Our guest speaker, Marcus (Third Pillar Health Ltd), will explore the impact of sleep on health and performance, whether we are getting enough, implications of poor sleep to individuals, implications of poor sleep to organisations, the benefits of napping and what you can do for your staff.


After 6 years in the banking industry, Marcus left in 2006 to set up a company specialising in education and assessment in respect of sleep and fatigue. Marcus will be speaking about how the impact of not obtaining sufficient good quality sleep impacts staff and organisations.

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Q: We have a very serious program to control fatigue within our employees. However what can we do to influence the home structure (kids/stress etc)

A: The key is giving employees the information they need to be able to make informed decisions. As I said on the webinar - we do not believe in being prescriptive. But education via face-to-face sessions, webinars or online are a great way to educate staff and answer their queries.

Q: How big an impact does blue light have on sleep?

A: There is a strong consensus that blue light affects sleep by suppressing the build up of melatonin. Experts suggest we have a 'power down' hour before sleep. The big tech companies are also starting to respond to the problem by introducing technology that can automatically cut out blue light on devices after a certain time.

Q: What about 2 sleeps, such as Samuel Pepys mentions in his diaries? Presumably one between 9-11 and then 2-6 (as an example).

A: There are two aspects to this. In an ideal world we would get quality uninterrupted sleep for c. 7.5 hours. That said if people were able to get, say, 4.5 (3 sleep cycles) and 3 hour (2 sleep cycles) slots then it would probably be sufficiently beneficial in terms of the benefits we get from sleep. The only thing is the population is finding it difficult enough to get 7-8 hours of sleep as it is. Introducing a 2-3 hour break in the middle of the night is going to be pretty difficult.

Q: Hi, I am a commuter to work. Teamed with work and commuting I average a 60 hour week, my sleep patterns are usually interrupted by my husband, for five days I go to bed about 10pm, have an interrupted sleep and wake up at 5.15am. After 10 years I am now exhausted, have you any tips on how I can manage my sleep and my levels of energy

A: Partners are a great source of sleep interruption. A term that's recently been coined (which I don't like as it sounds negative is 'sleep divorce'. If you have an option to sleep in a separate room then that might be your best option. If you don't have a spare room then things like ear plugs, bigger bed, separate mattresses (even on the same bed frame) and duvets can all help. Addition of white noise might also be useful. If it is due to loud snoring then it might be worth taking a look at sleep apnoea as well, as this can be debilitating to both partners and is significantly undiagnosed.

Q: How do you broach the subject of something personal like sleep (being an aspect of home life) without it being seen as controlling or invasive?

A: The best way to approach this is through education rather than being in any way prescriptive. That's always been our approach. Give staff the knowledge they need to make informed decisions.

Q: Are the sleep monitors/apps which are now available useful?

A: They can be. If it means that someone is taking more of an interest in their sleep then that can be great. On the flip side they can actually cause more anxiety about sleep - if they are not getting enough. Also the reliability and accuracy of many of the wearables / apps is up for debate.

Q: Are the 'sleep apps' helpful that are supposed to wake you up at the best time, i.e. not in a deep sleep state?

A: In addition to the above question - the answer again is they can be. In an ideal world we'd go to bed and wake up naturally without the need for an alarm clock at the end of a sleep cycle (so waking up from a dream is a good sign) having gone through a number of uninterrupted cycles. Our sleep cycle is roughly 90 minutes. Mine's 86 minutes but it can be up to 100. So for me 7 minutes and 10 minutes of uninterrupted sleep is perfect.

Q: You referred to sleep deprivation being like being legally drunk. What do you mean by legally drunk?

A: This is essentially how people perform after standardised reaction and error tests both after a poor night of sleep or when being over the legal drink drive limit. So in essence we suffer the same levels of cognitive impairment.

Q: Would short naps count towards your sleep deposit?

A: They can do. Although if you are wanting to repay a sleep debt then you are better off looking at longer naps of 60 to 90 minutes. These can also be a great preventative measure for shift workers before a shift. Napping is a topic I could have done a whole new webinar on. It's fascinating (and very beneficial).

Q: How can this info be rolled out to benefit staff?

A: You could do some research - just be careful what you read. There is a lot of very poor advice out there.

Q: How long is a short nap?

A: Scientists have shown the benefits of naps of even just 5 minutes. However, a nap that has 20 minutes of actual sleep is a great way to improve alertness and productivity over a longer period. Naps perform much better than caffeine.

Q: In what way does sleep regulate our weight?

A: Sleep plays a major role in hormonal balance. In particular Ghrelin and Leptin. These regulate our appetite and feelings of fullness. It has been shown that even after one night of poor sleep we consume up to 500 more calories the next day and this tends to be junk food - think chocolate, fizzy drinks etc. that 'give us a lift'.

Q: Do you have any advice on aids to sleeping please?

A: The best advice is to follow good sleep hygiene. I personally tend to be very anti pills - especially prescription sleep medication. They seem to be a quick fix by rushed GPs who don't always have the greatest knowledge on sleep. Pills can be beneficial but they need to be rigorously monitored for dosage and decreased over time.