Last weekend the daylight-saving hours changed, meaning those of us lucky enough to be in bed on a Sunday morning (undisturbed) were soaking up an extra hour of precious shuteye. Atlas Consultant Bethan Phillips tells us why sleep has become the ‘new black’ with politicians, the wider public and businesses alike.
Times they are-a-changing
Back in the eighties, Margaret Thatcher famously claimed to get by on just five hours of sleep. In fact her lack of sleep contributed to her fearsome reputation, with the BBC claiming “indefatigability became part of her mystique”. Roll on the noughties and there was a sort of bravado in going without sleep; “Pulled a late one last night, only had 4 hours sleep” said most account managers at PR firms across the country in 2005, “you bloody lad” replied everyone!
But fast forward to 2019 and whilst the nineties/early noughties fashion has made one hell of a comeback (guilty as charged with the high waisted baggy jeans), the attitudes to sleep have not. There is now a much greater focus on well-being, looking-after yourself and a sh*t tone of self-love books, which means the dialogue around sleep is shifting. Instead of disregarding the value of sleep, society is focusing on the foundational affect that it has on all other aspects of our health. It has become socially acceptable to head home early after an evening out, which as a long-term sleep ‘fan-girl’ I am delighted about. Now when I meet girlfriends for a mid-week wine and dine the general consensus is to get a 6.30PM table booking so we can be home by 9.30PM, lights out by 10PM, dream evening had by all (pun intended).
New US government research shows millennials are now sleeping longer (20mins extra on average everyday), compared to their older counterparts . And it’s not just millennials who are prioritising more sleep. Earlier in the year 180,000 students, teachers and parents signed a petition asking MPs to consider schools starting at 10AM, rather than 8.30AM, so they could sleep more. Because the petition surpassed 100,000 signatures it trigged a parliamentary debate on the matter with lots of MPs showing their support. In the end, MPs resolved to ‘note the petition’ and called for more research to be carried out on the subject.
At a recent dinner with Atlas Partners, the former public health Minister Steve Brine MP talked about sleep being the new frontier for the public health agenda. Does that mean we might see campaigns from Department for Health and Social Care encouraging us to get eight full hours (the current NHS recommendation is six to nine) as well as eating five a day? Or perhaps the next decade will require product re-engineering for our phones, in the same way the government is currently pressuring the manufacturers of chocolate bars to reduce their sugar content. Your guess is as good as mine when it comes to future policy, but what we can be certain of in present day is that our politicians definitely need to get some more sleep as studies show a lack of sleep may lead to making riskier decisions.
Outside of Parliament, there is a growing industry trying to sell us a better night’s sleep with a plethora of a trendy tech devices. The sleep industry is now estimated to be worth more than £100 billion, around the same value as the entire creative industry to the UK. From the SomniLight Amber Book Lamp designed to mimic the amber wavelength of candlelight, to the Nanu ‘designed by you, made by you’ pillows or the Oura ring sleep tracker (modelled by our very own Prince Harry), you name it, there is a gadget for it. Whilst I’m sure there are many that have had better nights sleep because of a personalised pillow, exercise and reading a book before bed is my go-to remedy.
As politicians, businesses and children speak up about the importance of sleep its vital our workplaces follow suit. Employers must recognise the impact sleep can have on our ability to perform well, which is why flexibility in the workplace is key. At Atlas, we have a flexible working policy which means if you’ve slept badly because you were worrying about a family member, on your period (hormone levels impact how you sleep) or your neighbours had a house party on a Thursday, you can start work later. I often wake in the night worrying about anything and everything so knowing if I can’t get back to sleep for a couple of hours I can start work later or even work from home can help reduce the anxiety I often experience when I can’t sleep.
Whilst some may poo poo the current value placed on sleep, I’m all for it. Don’t get me wrong, I won’t be wearing an Oura ring anytime soon (soz Harry), but I will continue to beam every time a friend suggests we meet for dinner straight after work, so we don’t end up having a late night!