Bowl of porridge and a spoon on a table

I recall a conversation with my sister before our first-born came along. At the time I was in that know-it-all, smug ‘about to be’ parent stage, having read a few books with advice like: “Can’t get your baby to sleep? Create a sleep zone, and calmly project your mood onto baby until they drift peacefully into sleep, and cease crying hysterically as if they’re being tortured”.

The conversation naturally progressed to sleep deprivation, another aspect of child-rearing I felt confident enough to cope with, though I failed to ask her the most important question: “How much of your three to five hours’ sleep comes in a block?”.

IN A BLOCK. Three words that, four and a half years later, still torture me.

Give any new parent four hours of uninterrupted sleep and it’s like injecting them with adrenaline. The stuff my wife and I achieved when we had a solid block of sleep – if you’d given me a week on that I would have finished it as Prime Minister.

Four years and three children later, I’m a living, breathing, psychological experiment in the practical realities of sleep deprivation.

Personal effects

From a practical perspective it’s been something of an interesting challenge. The biggest risk tiredness presents to safety is driving, so the conclusion I came to was to eliminate it. Taxi, train and plane for me. I don’t always admit this to my wife (competitive tiredness is a terrible game) but the chance to grab the odd nap between productive bursts of work is a pretty essential life saver.

Health-wise, it might sound bizarre, but when I got used to waking between 4-5am every day I thought I’d make the most of this by taking up triathlons. Having that extra fitness is the only way I can balance my life.

The net benefit is I’ve learned loads about planning and nutrition, so I fuel for work now. If I’m running a training workshop or an event I have a nutrition strategy now to keep my energy levels high and stay on my game. I must admit I do get strange looks when I kick off a morning session wearing a wetsuit, though the benefit to our workshop attendees is worth it, I think.

Organisational effects

When our clients want to improve their performance I often ask them to consider the profound impact home life has on their staff. Take fatigue for instance – do you really know how much sleep your workforce is getting? Do you even talk about it, and how much do you mitigate against it?

I hear from word-of-mouth that one reason why safety performance during construction of the Olympic Park in London was so outstanding, was the fact that they sat workers down and made them eat porridge each morning. Porridge, as all triathletes know, is a great, slow-energy release food that keeps you well-fuelled and combats the effects of tiredness.

What a fantastic example of understanding and mitigating against home influences (although I’m not sure how practical it is to undertake construction work in a wetsuit)!

So be wary of drawing a division line between work life and home life when it comes to staff well-being. The two are, of course, far too closely related to separate. In fact, the biggest risk to an impeccable safety record might not even lie within your control, it could lurking at home waiting to erupt – just as you’re nodding off.