If you are like most Americans, sleep deprivation is a way of life.
We work longer hours than most of our European counterparts, and the culture of technology and instant gratification have made us feel that it’s necessary to be constantly connected to email and social media. However, the habits that make us feel like we’re highly productive are actually health and productivity killers.
Lack of Sleep Equals Lack of Functionality
The Division of Sleep Medicine at the Harvard Medical School concluded that the detrimental effects of sleep deprivation on your mood, ability to focus, and access to higher-level brain functions can last for days. In fact, the negative effects of sleep deprivation are so great that a study by Tom Rath, author of “Eat Move Sleep”, found that four hours of sleep loss produces as much impairment as consuming a six-pack of beer. Can you imagine driving or making critical decisions in your personal or professional life at that level of impairment?
Lack of Sleep Leads to Serious Health Problems
There are also serious health problems that result from a lack of sleep. Sleep deprivation has been linked to heart attack, stroke, type 2 diabetes, depression, memory loss and obesity. Lack of sleep stresses you out because your body overproduces cortisol (the stress hormone) which decreases the effectiveness of your immune system. It also makes it more difficult for your body to metabolize carbohydrates and control food intake.
In other words, when you sleep less, you eat more and burn fewer calories.
How Much Sleep is Ideal?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that a third of U.S. workers are getting less than 6 hours of sleep each night. It is estimated this costs U.S. businesses a staggering $63 billion annually in lost productivity.
One of the most influential sleep and performance studies was conducted by Professor K. Anders Ericsson who found that top performers sleep 8 hours and 36 minutes per day. Not sure about setting your alarm clock for 8 hours and 36 minutes from bedtime? That’s ok, you should aim for between 7 and 9 hours of sleep nightly.
But it’s not just the quantity of hours you sleep each night, you need good quality sleep.
Tips to a Better Night’s Sleep:
- – Don’t drink caffeine after lunch time. Caffeine disrupts the quality of your sleep by reducing rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the deep sleep cycle where your body recuperates most.
- – Avoid alcohol late in the evening. Alcohol interferes with your natural sleep cycles by altering the brain’s recovery process.
- – Avoid blue light at night. In the morning, sunlight contains high concentrations of “blue” light which signals the brain to halt production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin and makes you feel more alert. While this is great for waking up in the morning, devices such as laptops, tablets, televisions and cell phones emit short-wavelength blue light which interfere with your ability to fall asleep. It’s best to limit exposure to these devices after dinner time.
- – Stop working until bedtime. Being in work mode keeps you in a stimulated and alert state making it difficult to relax and prepare for sleep. Surveys show that 60% of people monitor their smartphones for work emails right up until they go to sleep, remember the tip about avoiding blue light?
- – Figure out how much sleep your body needs. If you have several days off with no set schedule, try going to bed at the same time each night and seeing what time you naturally wake up to determine how many hours of sleep you need. Don’t have time off or a vacation coming up? Consider using a sleep calculator or download an app to help you determine the right amount of sleep for you.
- – Set your alarm to wake up the same time every day, even on your days off. When you have a consistent wake up time, your brain gets used to the routine and moves through the sleep cycle in preparation for you to feel rested and alert at your regular wake up time. Sleeping in on your days off messes with your wake up routine and throws your cycle off.
- – Eliminate as many interruptions as you can. Your quality of sleep suffers when it is interrupted. Turn your ringer off or use a do not disturb setting, wear earplugs if your partner snores, avoid drinking water late in the evening, or use a sound machine to drown out ambient noise.
- – Clear your mind and relax. Rather than focus on all the things you need to do tomorrow, focus on your breathing and relaxing your muscles. This takes practice but it’s worth the effort because you’ll fall asleep faster and rest better.
- – Create a sleep friendly environment. Your bedroom should be your sanctuary, so get rid of the stressful clutter. When it’s time for bed, make sure your room is dark by using black-out shades.
- – Set the temperature. A cool temperature, between 60-67 degrees, will help your body naturally prepare for sleep. Try using scents like vanilla or lavender to create an atmosphere that is relaxing and calming.
Most of us know someone burning the candle at both ends who thinks they’re functioning just fine on 5 or 6 hours of sleep a night, it could even be you. The truth is that we all want more time in our day to get things done, but when we try to boost productivity by expanding our waking hours and sleeping less, we lose far more than we gain.
So do yourself a favor and get some Z’s tonight, and wake up to a healthier more productive lifestyle tomorrow.
Jessica Tucker, Human Resources Director