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Choices for Wellbeing: Dealing with Sleep Disorders

According to a Finnish study, adults who say they sleep between seven and eight hours per night miss fewer workdays due to sickness than others.

But not everyone is having a good night’s sleep.

According to the NHS, between September 2012 and August 2013, there were 30,500 admissions for sleep disorders, a 3.6 per cent increase in admissions from the previous 12 months.

The three largest groups admitted for sleeping orders, not including children aged 0-4, were adults in their late forties and fifties.

in the UK, it’s estimated that around 4% of middle-aged men and 2% of middle-aged women have Obstructive Sleep Apnoea.

The importance of a good night’s sleep

In a previous blog, we looked at the effect that sleep deprivation can have on employees.

Sleep is vital for brain development and maintaining normal levels of cognitive skills. 

Lack of sleep can result in an inability to focus and concentrate, reducing your attention span and, in extreme cases, affecting your language, memory, sense of time and judgement.

New research suggests that sleeping 7 to 8 hours per night is associated with the lowest risk of staff absence in work.

A good night’s sleep can boost both your physical and mental health. But with so many of us missing out on it, how can you recognise the symptoms of a sleep disorder?

Common Sleep Disorders

Sleep disorders come in many different forms. Here are a few of the most common examples.

Delayed sleep phase disorder (DSPD) 

This is when you are unable to fall asleep during the natural circadian rhythm of sunrise and sunset. DSPD sufferers can’t fall asleep at a conventional time in the evening and wake at what would be considered a socially unacceptable time in the morning, especially for a working day. 

Excessive sleepiness 

This is the most common reason for patients visiting sleep clinics, with complaints of feeling drowsy and sluggish most days. Symptoms often interfere with work, school, activities, or relationships. Common causes are poor, reduced or irregular sleep habits. 


Narcolepsy is a rare, long-term brain disorder where the person suddenly falls asleep at inappropriate times. The symptoms include feeling excessively drowsy throughout the day, with difficulty concentrating and staying awake, falling asleep suddenly and without warning, temporary loss of muscle control, and a temporary inability to move or speak when waking up or falling asleep. 


Insomniacs have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, even when they have the chance to do so. When they do sleep, sufferers are dissatisfied with the quality of sleep and usually experience symptoms of fatigue, low energy, difficulty concentrating, mood disturbances, and decreased performance in work or at school. 

There are two types of insomnia; acute insomnia (associated with life circumstances and usually easily resolved) and chronic insomnia, which can have many causes and can be treated in a number of ways.

Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) 

This is a sleep disorder in which breathing is briefly and repeatedly interrupted during sleep.

It occurs when the muscles in the back of the throat fail to keep the airway open and can disturb sleep, lower blood oxygen levels and may lead to hypertension, heart disease and mood and memory problems. 

Causes can include a small upper airway, large tongue or tonsils, being overweight, having a recessed chin, small jaw or a large overbite, smoking and excessive alcohol consumption. 

You should visit your GP if you think you may have OSA so that sleep studies can be undertaken.

Treatment is usually a mask that fits over the nose and/or mouth and gently blows air into the airway to help keep it open during sleep. 

Losing weight, avoiding alcohol and stopping smoking will all improve the symptoms of OSA. Sleeping on your side may also improve symptoms.

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) 

As the name suggests, this is an overwhelming, irresistible or involuntary urge to move your legs (occasionally also the arms). 

Symptoms are often worse in the evening or at night and can be mild or severe. 

In the main, there is no obvious cause but in some cases, it could be linked to iron deficiency or kidney problems. 

Lifestyle changes, including regular sleeping hours, avoiding alcohol and caffeine, stopping smoking and taking exercise during the day can all help with the symptoms.

Seeking help with a sleeping disorder

It’s very important to work closely with your doctor to determine if you have a sleep disorder and what treatment is right for you. 

A referral may be made to a sleep specialist so that they can discuss your symptoms and work out a treatment plan. 

Treatment does not necessarily mean medication. Relaxation, counselling, a healthy diet plan, and exercise can all form part of the treatment plan. 

Checklist for a good night’s sleep 

Finally, here’s a quick checklist to help you plan for a better night’s sleep:

  • Have a bedtime routine allowing you to slowly unwind ready for sleep 
  • Keep your bedroom cool 
  • Avoid exercise about three hours before bedtime 
  • Keep the bedroom dark 
  • Turn off mobile phones 
  • Invest in a good mattress and pillows 
  • Use a relaxation tape to help you sleep 
  • Avoid alcohol, nicotine and caffeine 1-2 hours before sleep 
  • Avoid stressful or stimulating activity before you go to bed 
  • Don’t try and force yourself to sleep 
  • If you can’t sleep, get up and do something to distract yourself 
  • If you think you may have a sleep disorder, visit your doctor for advice and possible treatment

If you’d like to find out how our occupational health services can help you to support employees with sleep disorders, get in touch today.

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Categories: Choices for WellbeingHealth & WellbeingOccupational Health

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