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Globally mobile employees' biggest nightmare: sleeping problems

We live in an age of AI and apps, with wellbeing advice and lifestyle gurus providing useful support to keep up with healthy habits in our intense daily life. Despite this, the one thing many of us fail to achieve is a good night’s sleep.

Globally mobile employees' biggest nightmare: sleeping problems

For the globally mobile employee, travelling frequently and working in different time zones, having the right amount of sleep can be even more challenging.

Working culture and office hours can vary dramatically around the world and -as highlighted in a recent article by the World Economic Forum - excessive hours can have a negative impact on mental health.

According to the International Classifications of Sleep Disorders, working shifts - for example for the hospitality and catering sector, or the medical and healthcare sector - increases the risk of chronic illnesses, especially because as much as we can measure the quality of sleep during the night, our bodies never fully adjust to shifting work.

So how do these factors impact mental health and workplace performance, and what can be done to improve the quality of our sleep?

The impact of poor sleep

At a recent World Government Summit in Dubai, a panel of experts warned that stress is threatening to become a global epidemic, with UAE residents at risk due to lack of sleep. US TV personality Dr Mehmet Oz stated that the average person in the UAE is only sleeping for five hours and 38 minutes each night – 28 minutes shorter than in the West. ​

People in these economies work the most extra hours

Rank position Economy Avg. number of extra hours worked each month
1 United Arab Emirates 24
2= United States 23.2
2= Hong Kong SAR 23.2
4 France 22.4
5= India 21.2
5= Russia 21.2
7 Brazil 18
8 United Kingdom 17.2
9 Mexico 16
10 South Africa 14.8

Source: MAXIS Global Benefits Network, 2019


Arianna Huffington, founder of The Huffington Post and Thrive Global, admitted that she once saw nothing wrong with sleeping for only four hours a night, as many people do in the pursuit of success. However, she collapsed from exhaustion just two years after founding the digital magazine and now recognises that performance is undermined when we don’t get enough sleep.

Today, it can be easy to believe that to succeed in business, sleep is optional. We are too busy to get things done, before anybody else, as competition is global, high and tougher than it has ever been before.

This mindset is leading to a crisis in both mental health and chronic diseases, with an exponential increase in obesity levels (people who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to have a bigger appetite, due to a decrease in the appetite-regulating hormone leptin) and heart conditions too.

An ‘always on’ culture - where we’re thinking about work constantly, answering emails into the night and never have a proper end to the working day - simply adds to an increase in stress-induced sleepless nights.

How much sleep do we need?

In general, most healthy adults need from six to eight hours of sleep a night. However, some individuals can function without sleepiness or drowsiness after as little as five hours, while others can’t perform at their peak unless they’ve slept up to ten hours. We naturally feel tired at two different times of the day: about 2:00 AM and 2:00 PM (this natural dip in alertness is primarily responsible for the post-lunch dip). Researchers at the University of Birmingham have shown that performance can vary by as much as 26% across the day, depending on the type of sleeper you are.​

Counteracting sleeping problems

Sleep is just as important as diet and exercise, so what we do to improve the quality of our sleep?

  • Understand the impact of light – Blue light (the kind emitted by phones, tablets and TVs) simulates daylight and causes the body to start waking up. You should avoid digital screens for an hour or so before bed, and the first light you should seek out in the morning is daylight (or artificially simulated daylight). 
  • Bright light therapy – This is especially helpful for shift workers or if you’ve changed time zones. Using a special light box or dawn simulator at certain times can help reset your circadian rhythm and manage the transition. Schedule short sessions when you first wake up and at midday, or go out for a 20-minute walk and enjoy the additional benefits of being outside during your break, especially if your job doesn’t include outdoor activities. 
  • Success is a consequence of the quality of our input, not how much time we put in – mobile phones are a portal for everyone’s demands of us, and Huffington has predicted that attachment to mobile phones is going to lead to a “worldwide burn out". We should turn them off and charge them away from the bedroom overnight, creating both physical and mental separation from a tool that should be helping us, not causing us harm. 
  • Exercise – Regular exercise makes it easier to fall asleep and contributes to sounder sleep. However, strenuous exercise just before going to bed can make falling asleep more difficult, so choose the time and activity carefully – relaxing yoga or a gentle walk will be preferable to a competitive game of tennis right before going to bed, for instance. 
  • Melatonin – Some studies show that the use of melatonin can shorten the time it takes to fall asleep and reduce the number of awakenings, but not necessarily increase total sleep time.
  • Workplace naps – according to the results of NSF's 2008 Sleep in America poll, a surprising 34 per cent of respondents reported that their employer allows them to nap during breaks, and 16 per cent provide a dedicated space for this. Take advantage of this if your employer provides something similar, or maybe provide a well-researched case for them to do so!


We know that moving overseas can be stressful. GGH’s International Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) provides an essential safety net when moving to a new country and role. Our EAP is a confidential resource offering information, advice and support, 24/7, 365 days a year, so members benefit from fast access to advisory and counselling services, for both professional and personal life matters.

Available on selected plans, please find out more your policy documents or visit your Member Portal.