The sleep deprivation solution

ALESSANDRO CARRARA spoke with wellbeing experts and hospitality associations to get their view on the best way to tackle sleep deprivation within the hospitality industry

Hospitality has been given the title of ‘most sleep deprived profession in the UK’, bringing to light a matter that could have serious implications for the industry.

Hospitality has a sleep problem, according to a census that named the industry as the most sleep deprived profession in the UK. This was based on the likelihood of waking up exhausted each morning, with 86% of hospitality staff members participating in the survey feeling they could work better if they were getting a better night’s rest. Sealy UK, which carried out the survey, says bosses are compounding the problem by ignoring signs of fatigue in their workforces.

It’s a nationwide issue, and across all the UK professions that took part in the census 65% regularly lost their temper or have been irritable to a colleague, 30% claims to suffer a lack of productivity, 19%  say they’re often late into work or have time off as a result and one-in-25 admitted to falling asleep whilst at work. However, perhaps most worrying is the 11% of workers who have had a recent accident at work – such as a trip or a slip, due to feeling tired.


A good night’s sleep is one of the biggest factors that affects our mood, health and mental well being, determining everything from cognitive ability to our awareness of potential risks and dangers around us. Fairly evidently, not getting enough sleep can have huge implications on our day-to-day lives – a profound and growing problem given how busy the modern working lifestyle is. The advent of homeworking and mobile systems access means many of us are ‘always-on’. But among the various professions out there, those working in the hospitality industry seem to be the most in need of a proper rest.

Neil Robinson, an expert on sleep at Sealy, says that lack of sleep – and the subsequent fallout the next day – can be caused by a wide range of legitimate medical conditions; from stress, to mental health problems or respiratory disease. Even at the less severe end of the spectrum, there’s usually an underlying health issue causing sleeplessness. However, it’s often treated as an “incidental issue” by bosses, with a “pull yourself together” attitude. This is not helpful for employees, especially when there are some potentially severe consequences of turning up exhausted.

So with such high numbers of workers reporting feeling exhausted – and few solutions proposed – what can actually be done to improve the situation? The issue lies within the shift-work nature of hospitality itself, which does not, and often cannot offer the same ‘pause moments’ that a standardised nine-to-five job can provide.

On average, adults need between seven to nine hours of sleep every night to feel fully rested, but in an industry that demands irregular work hours this can be difficult to achieve. Natalie Pennicott-Collier from hypnotherapy and well being experts Mind Tonic, says employers need to take into account “the nature of shift work” and “create different programmes for employees to support that their needs”.

She stresses the importance of a good night’s rest, saying “sleep is the first pillar of wellbeing” and “is the biggest affecting factor to your mood, motivation and mindset”. “It changes your whole day if you perceive or feel that you’ve slept badly,” she says.

“The education around sleep is paramount and so many people don’t understand what happens when we sleep. The mind is 30% more active when we’re sleeping than were consciously awake. We have 50-70,000 thoughts a day and see around 50,000 images, and all of that has to be processed at night. So if we are missing out on sleep, we are also missing out on that processing time and our health and wellbeing will suffer.

“There isn’t a single biological function that isn’t supported by quality sleep. That can still happen in shift work, but it’s about how workers set up their day and have pause points that incorporate mini moments of mindfulness,” she adds.

Collier says hotel management could look at an employee’s shift pattern across the month, encouraging them to pinpoint ‘spaces’ that they can use to rest and ensure their wellbeing. She adds that it is also important for employees to understand what their next working week/month looks like, making sure there are enough breaks to stay on top of their own wellbeing rather than feeling like sleep is something that will always be sporadic.

A more worrying consideration, she contends, is that the effects of poor sleep habits are often a precursor to deteriorating mental health, which can have an even greater cost and impact on individuals. Collier believes that a good night’s sleep is the best way to mitigate this, and “inspiring and educating” people about sleep science is vital.

She says if employees understand what’s happening when they aren’t getting enough sleep, they can implement tools and techniques that can actually help to change that. “The power of the mind plays a huge part in that, since so many people go around with limiting beliefs and just accept the path I can’t sleep, that I’m not a good sleeper. They put this label on themselves. The reality is that they haven’t really tried to address it, they haven’t stuck to a structured programme and haven’t really understood what they can be doing better.”


Collier also illustrates how the cost of poor sleep across the hotel and hospitality industry is huge, especially when you also consider the returns companies will get if it starts investing in workplace wellbeing. The overall annual cost of lost sleep in the UK was around £40bn, which is the equivalent to around 200,000 working days lost, according to research from RAND Europe. This includes presenteeism – turning up at work when you are ill and underperforming because of stress, lack of sleep or long hours and excessive work loads.

She points to London transport group TFL, and how its stress management programme helped to reduce absenteeism by 79% in the first two years of its implementation.

It’s important not to forget that it isn’t just employees who can suffer from sleep deprivation. Collier says it’s “amazing” when you see some of the top senior management stand up and actually admit that haven’t been sleeping well. They can use that feeling to understand what their workers are going through, and help to provide the same opportunities for sleep recovery.

Collier says that sometimes the reasons behind not sleeping well isn’t always attributed to the actual workload or shift patterns, instead it can something “quite personal” to the individual. “It’s about giving those employees a voice and an opportunity to speak out if they are stressed, overworked, or have had arguments at home.”

Louise Aston, director of business at Community Wellbeing, isn’t surprised that the hospitality sector come out high on the list for sleep deprivation. Employees working in hospitality can be considered part of the ‘gig economy’, since they may well have multiple jobs and will often be working night shifts. Depending on how those night shifts are designed dictates whether they are getting enough time to recover. “I think the hospitality sector is a challenged sector to do with health and well being generally, because of the nature of how a lot of people in the industry might be working.”

She explains that a lack of sleep “leaves people grumpy”, which can not only have huge implications with the people you work with but can also have a massive impact on customer satisfaction. Adding that hotels “will suffer” since people who are feeling fatigued aren’t as productive and be less likely to do their job properly.

She adds that managers should be aware that low productivity, high labour turnover and absenteeism are good indicators that their employees might be being suffering from poor sleep. “Top leadership can model that behaviour so that it becomes normal for everyone to care about the well being of their colleagues, creating a more resilient and resourceful workforce.”

Peter Ducker, CEO of the Institute of Hospitality, thinks the statistic – while clearly not a good thing – is understandable. He says: “It messes with the time they should be going to sleep. For example if they are working on an early shift the next morning and they have a five o’clock alarm call they wont really sleep well because of the worry that they’re going to miss it.”

Ducker says the solution has to be a combination of “businesses looking to be alert to the telltale signs” and “improving shift patterns”, so that people are not routinely being put in situations where they are deprived of sleep. The reason hospitality should be taking sleep deprivation so seriously, he explains, is because it will actively hurt the industry. If the job you are doing makes you “feel bad because you’re not sleeping properly” you’re going to leave it and find something else. The industry will lose good people because we are making it “too tiring for them to work in it”.

He adds: “My concerns really are for the individual. As managers we have a social responsibility to look after the welfare of people who work in our teams and for the overarching good of the industry. It’s so hard to recruit and keep good people in hospitality, so we should be doing everything we can to make it a more appealing place to work.”

Ducker recounts how at the start of his career, staff relaxed after a difficult shift by going out and drinking. He says: “These days it’s even easier because pubs are open later, so there maybe that’s not the best way to relax. A possible management initiative should try educate people in better ways to manage their come down period rather than going and sinking a few drinks.

“I think maybe we have to do more in the industry to do lifestyle coaching so that we can encourage people to think about healthy ways of decompressing after the days work instead of hitting the bottle. That’s probably something we should be doing a lot more of in terms of our corporate responsibility.”

On the other hand Ducker reassuringly notes that one positive change that a lot of companies have already implemented is the elimination of the ‘split shift’ in which employees work a lunch service and then a dinner service, with only a short gap to take a break in the afternoon. “Today they try to schedule things where people work either just work the starting shift or the ending shift,” he adds.


Sealy is working with Russell HR Consulting to produce a ‘common sense’ guide for bosses to better manage sleep deprivation of staff. Companies and organisations already supporting the campaign include North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust and The Light leisure and retail centre in Yorkshire.

Kate Russell, a HR expert at Russell HR says: “Tiredness poses a severe challenge to our ability to function well, yet it is frequently the root cause of decreased productivity, accidents and mistakes which cost companies billions of pounds each year.

“Sleep deprivation is no laughing matter. Eventually, our biological drive to compensate for sleep deprivation wins, and the loser might be your workers, your business or even you.

Businesses have a critical responsibility to take sleeplessness seriously. If you want to raise performance—both your own and your organisation’s—you need to pay attention to this important issue. Ensuring that staff are well-rested is quite simply a smart business strategy”.

While it is good that the company is doing something tangible to target sleep deprivation, will a pamphlet be enough to make a serious change? Ducker says that by itself it won’t be able to, but as “a brick in the wall” it has potential. “Anything that brings this onto managers agendas,” he says, “so they start thinking about it and what it can do to improve this situation will be a good start. Thats the sort of thing that really should be pushed out to hoteliers, restaurateurs and people who work in hospitality.”

Aston thinks it isn’t sufficient and only “scratches the surface”, adding: “In order to do this properly it needs to be more than a pamphlet. It’s about positioning sleep as a strand of integrated approach to well-being in the workplace. That takes real leadership, a leaflet just isn’t going to cut it.”

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Alessandro Carrara

Alessandro is a trained journalist just getting started in the writing arena. He’s madly obsessed with Japanese culture, a passionate reader and adores niche video games. When he isn't getting sore thumbs from playing classic Nintendo games, he’s working as an editorial assistant for Mulberry Publications. Feel free to drop him a line with any story ideas.

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