The Truth about Sleep and Productivity

We’ve all heard about the negative effects on your health that not getting enough sleep can cause, but what about your career? Is getting 8 hours enough anymore? Nowadays the loss of sleep is so widespread, and so negative, it is now being considered an unrecognised epidemic. If you’re not getting your 40 winks, are you putting your career at risk?


How Sleep Can affect your health


Poor sleep has been linked to a number of health problems including: anxiety, depression and a weakened immune system. Lack of sleep can also contribute to your risk of heart attacks, strokes, type 2 diabetes and obesity. Researchers at Mental Health Foundation state that poor sleep can make us “less receptive to positive emotions, which in turn can make us feel miserable during the day, and may increase the likelihood of us developing depression.”  Indeed, not catching 40 winks can cause irritability and impatience as well as inhibiting concentration and memory.


Research from the University of Rochester explains why your brain cells need you to sleep. The study found that when you sleep your brain removes toxic proteins from its neurons that are by-products of neural activity when you’re awake. Unfortunately, your brain can only  remove them while you sleep. So when you don’t get enough sleep, the toxic proteins remain in your brain cells, impairing your ability to think. You may want to reach for the Nescafé, but as seen in our article last week, caffeine isn’t the answer.


How Sleep Can affect your career


Damaged communication. You’ll perhaps become more irritable and have less patience for those around you when you haven’t slept well. This can cause friction amongst colleagues, resulting in a reduction in productivity as communication becomes difficult. Click here to see the how poor communication can stop you getting things done.

You’ll be worse than drunk. In his article for Forbes,Travis Bradberry highlights just how out of it you’ll be when you’ve slept poorly:

“the short-term productivity gains from skipping sleep to work are quickly washed away by the detrimental effects of sleep deprivation on your mood, ability to focus, and access to higher-level brain functions for days to come. The negative effects of sleep deprivation are so great that people who are drunk outperform those lacking sleep.” (My emphasis) (!)

While it may seem productive in the short term to be burning the midnight oil, in the long term the effects of this can cause problems. You may be subject to a prolonged absence or cause conflict in the office as patience with colleagues becomes more difficult. Being physically unable to do your job is the biggest factor in a reduced productivity. So what can be done?

How to improve your sleeping habits


While there may not be a universal answer to how much sleep you need, what you can do is find out how much sleep you work best with. Aim to get this every night and you should be working at full power and seeing your productivity increase in no time. The Mental Health organisation recommend keeping a sleep diary, recording the amount of time you were sleeping and factors you think may have affected the amount of sleep you had. For more information about starting a sleep diary click here.

1. Set yourself a bedtime.

In his article ‘Sleep Your Way to the Top (Of peak Productivity)’ Thanh Pham states: “being optimally productive requires some planning of your sleep. If you want to be productive tomorrow, you will need to ensure that tonight you will get enough sleep which means getting in bed at a certain time.”

As childish as that may feel, forcing yourself into bed at a certain time every night will create a routine that your body will adjust to, helping you regulate your body clock and ensure you get to sleep every night.

2. Wind down


Gandhi once said: “Man should forget his anger as he lies down to sleep”

Gandhi was right about letting go of anger, but letting go of stress and worries will also help you nod off. The Sleep Foundation advise spending the last hour before bed doing a calming activity such as reading to get you in the mood for sleeping.

However, this doesn’t mean catching up on your facebook/twitter or pinterest feed, as studies have shown that the blue light emitted from the screen works to activate the brain, causing you to feel more awake and struggle to get to sleep.

Whether you meditate, have a bath or unwind to some music, repeat this process every night at the same time so falling to sleep becomes second nature.

3. If you wake up – try not to focus on ‘trying to get to sleep’

If you wake up in the middle of the night, the Royal Society of Psychiatrists suggests getting up and doing something relaxing. So read a book, do leftover dishes, pair socks or at least do something to take your mind off the clock ticking!

For more fascinating and different methods to help you fall asleep, Scott Young has compiled a great list of dos and dont’s of trying to fall asleep:

4. Put. The Laptop. Down.

Wifi is great isn’t it? You can be connected to the internet almost whenever and wherever you are. Work has become much easier, as the flexibility of the laptop means you can access work from home. However, while it may feel productive to be catching up on a few emails or adding some figures to the spreadsheet from hell, doing it at 9pm at night from your bed is a sure-fire way to keep you awake.

If you’re feeling like you need to be putting in those extra hours and losing out on sleep, consider if there’s a problem with the system you’re using. Does it support your team’s needs sufficiently, or do you feel that the tool can’t cope with the pace of you or your project? Changing the system that you use (even if it means ditching the spreadsheets) may seem drastic, but if it stops you sending emails and organising your team when you should be sleeping, it could result in less anxiety and more down-time.

Do you have any tried and tested tips for getting to sleep? Let us know in the comments below!

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