Circadian rhythms are physical, mental and behavioural changes that follow a 24-hour cycle.1 They can influence sleep-wake cycles, hormone release, and eating habits and digestion.1 In simpler terms, it’s our internal body clock.

Factors such as daylight and temperature can cause disruption to your circadian rhythm, which can lead to sleeping and eating patterns becoming irregular. Research has found that a disrupted circadian rhythm can also contribute to mental health issues, including depression and bipolar disorder.2

So as an employer, what actions can you take to make sure your working environment can help with your employees’ circadian rhythm?

Be flexible with time

Giving your workers a degree of flexibility when they start and finish work can help improve their circadian rhythm.3 Employees can match their working hours to their body clock, making them more productive and efficient members of staff – simply offering the choice to start between 8am and 10am and finish between 4pm and 6pm can go a long way.

Set employee objectives

Overworking your employees or setting unrealistic expectations of them can have a negative impact on their body clock, as they’ll never be able to switch off. In the age of technology, where an email can be sent at any time of day or night, you should try to discourage an ‘always at work’ mentality. By encouraging management teams to set achievable objectives and deadlines, you can help employees sleep better and improve their circadian rhythm.4

Have set break times

For shift workers in particular, making sure you sit down to eat at a regular time is key to helping your circadian rhythm. To get your body and mind running at 100 per cent, you need to reset your body clock.5 Having the different ‘clocks’ in your body (i.e. liver, brain, pancreas) out-of-sync can have an impact on sleeping patterns, so ensuring your employees are taking breaks at consistent times can help.

Encourage exercise

Working long hours may discourage employees from keeping active outside of work, but getting exercise can help improve their body clock. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) says just 30 minutes of daily exercise is enough to help staff get a better night’s sleep and maintain a healthy balance.

Why not try holding pre or post-work exercise groups – running clubs and yoga session are two good options. Or, you could offer your employees discounted memberships to encourage them to join their local gym.

Rethink your shift patterns

If your staff need to work on varying shift patterns, you can help by rethinking the format of your rotas.

Trying to keep an employee’s working week as regular as possible – for example, having them starting at the same time for a full week, rather than chopping and changing daily between different start times  can be a huge benefit.

If you operate on a day/night shift basis, ensure your staff’s body clock has time to adjust to the hours they are working (i.e. day shifts), then give them enough of a break before they start their change of shifts (i.e. moving to nights).

Offering professional help and advice

Working shifts can be a key factor in causing mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, due to the irregular circadian rhythm creating disruption with the different chemicals in your body.6 Employers have a duty of care to look after their employees’ wellbeing in the workplace, so ensuring they can get help, support and guidance in times of need is key.

Implementing an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) can help support the wellbeing of your workforce, particularly their mental health. An EAP provides staff with access to confidential support, assistance and counselling to help them deal with a range of life events.

To find out more about how Sovereign Health Care can help support your business and employees’ wellbeing, visit sovereignhealthcare.co.uk/business

1 National Institute of General Medical Sciences
2 News Week
3 Harvard Business Review
4 BHS Online
5 Live Science
6 The Sleep Foundation

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