Rethink: Will companies help us improve our sleep habits?

Sleep scientist Matthew Walker hopes that improved resting habits which have emerged throughout the pandemic may be incorporated in to our future life. Could companies adjust their working patterns, for example, to help employees sleep better, that he asks.

Our sleep does appear to have changed during the pandemic.

There is some emerging data from some sleep-tracking companies that suggests folks are going to bed at different times from before, but additionally, typically, typically, waking up slightly later.

Now, for some people over all that means they are getting actually more sleep. I think what we’ll find is that after we go through the data, there is probably at the least two clouds of results.

There are some people throughout the pandemic who’ll have been fighting sleep and been getting less, and it’s really more difficult – and then other individuals who are actually getting decidedly more.

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Companies can attempt to allow employees to start sleeping in an infinitely more compatible way with their biology

But I think what we’re really seeing in this data is that individuals are needs to sleep more in harmony with what we call your chronotype. In other words, have you been an evening person, are you a morning person, or are you somewhere in-between?

And as it happens, by the way, you do not really obtain a choice for the reason that. It’s largely genetically determined, so it’s hard-wired. But what does this mean for future years, or what could it mean for future years in terms of sleep?

Well, perhaps when people return to work, what if we asked everybody to complete a very brief set of questions and we asked them about their preferred sleep times – when they would rather to awaken, when they would rather to go to bed?

Companies are able to start to attempt to accommodate – as much as they could – people’s individual work schedules. And in that way they allow the employee to start sleeping in an infinitely more compatible way with their biology, rather than incompatible, which is what many of us seem to do in this modern world.

Society is truly designed to bias and favour these morning types, but there’s a great big range, and as a result we could have better-rested employees, better-rested leaders.

We understand that more sleep does equal more productivity. It’s incorrect that less sleep equals more productivity, it’s the opposite – and individuals utilise fewer healthcare resources when they truly are better slept. There might be manifold consequences.

There’s probably a second implication here, also it comes on to immunity.

What we know is that there is an extremely intimate relationship between your sleep health and your immune health – and something example I do believe has implications for the coronavirus.

Researchers found that if you are not getting sufficient sleep in the week before you get your standard flu shot, you produce significantly less than 50% of the normal antibody response, rendering that vaccination far less effective.

So what’s an idea for future years?

Well, perhaps we can begin to inquire about people’s sleep as they truly are coming in for his or her Covid vaccination.

Can we try to enhance immunity, boost the effectiveness of the vaccination, by simply timing that vaccination with the moment when people are well rested. once they are most useful slept?

I think that might be an interesting idea, based on the scientific data we already have.

BBC Radio 4, Radio 5 Live and World Service attended together for a unique collaboration: BBC Rethink. It asks how society and our lives can transform for the greater after the Covid-19 crisis.

You can hear the BBC Rethink episodes on BBC Sounds.

And read The Pope’s essay on poverty here.

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