Practically everyone has the occasional night when they don’t get enough sleep. Whether it’s a loud neighbor or snoring partner or a tricky problem keeping you awake, the effect is always the same: You’re going to feel tired, sluggish, and out of sorts the next day.
The problem is that when these occasional bouts of insomnia become more common or last longer, almost every aspect of your life can suffer, including your career. Simply put, no matter how many cups of coffee you drink or how much you just push through your exhaustion, eventually inadequate sleep is going to have a negative effect on your productivity -- which can affect your work relationships, your earnings, your chances of landing a promotion, and even your employment status.
According to the CDC, as many as 1 in 3 adults don’t get the recommended amount of sleep each night, which is about 7-9 hours for the average adult. Although there are many factors that influence Americans’ chronic sleep deprivation, the CDC points to lifestyle factors, including the increased use of electronics and a lack of work-life balance, as major reasons that people aren’t getting enough sleep. The good news, though, is that many of the issues can be corrected, improving your overall health and well-being and making you more productive without needing to spend more time in the office.
Sleep deprivation is a costly problem to U.S. businesses, largely because of the effect that it has on productivity. According to one study, businesses lose the equivalent of more than 1.2 million working days due to tired employees who are unable to perform. On an individual basis, the reduced productivity brought on by not getting enough sleep amounts to more than 10 lost workdays each year. Think of all you could get done if you had an extra two weeks to work with -- or better yet, how much time you could spend doing other things if you were so busy playing catch-up on tasks you weren’t able to complete.
A lack of sleep can tank your productivity for a number of reasons. For starters, sleep deprivation simply makes you too tired to function. Sleep is important for repairing muscles and restoring energy, and without it, you’ll just run out of steam and the ability to get as much accomplished.
In addition, sleep deprivation contributes to a host of medical issues, including diabetes and heart disease. If you are living with a chronic condition, inadequate sleep can make managing it that much more difficult, and increase the amount of time you spend out of the office, either at home taking a sick day or juggling doctors appointments and treatments with your work.
However, even if you aren’t sick, not giving your body and mind adequate time to rest and recover each day, you simply aren't going to have the same levels of mental function and acuity that you would if you’re well rested. Without giving your brain time to process new information and support brain cell development, it’s ultimately going to overload and affect your ability to perform even the most basic tasks. Not only will you have trouble concentrating and recovering from distractions, but your memory will suffer, you’ll have slower reaction times, and take longer to complete tasks. Your decision making will also suffer (sleep deprivation makes you less averse to risk, which can lead to poor decisions and an increased likelihood of an accident), as will your accuracy.
In short, not getting enough sleep makes it all but impossible to do your job effectively and do it well. Tasks will take longer to complete, and in many cases, you’ll end up spending even more time to correct errors or redo subpar work, further reducing productivity. And the longer it continues, the more it’s going to affect the bottom line -- and ultimately, your career.
Unfortunately, sleep deprivation is cumulative. In other words, the more nights you go without enough sleep, the worse the problem gets and the harder it will be to catch up. Not to mention, when don’t maintain a regular sleep schedule, it can disrupt your Circadian rhythm, eventually making it much harder for you to fall asleep, remain asleep, and awaken at a regular time each day.
For some, this may be easier said than done. By following these tips, though, you can improve your sleep and your work productivity.
Going to bed and waking up around the same time every day will help ensure you get enough sleep every night. Within a few weeks, your body will naturally adjust to the schedule and you'll have less trouble falling asleep. If you can’t seem to get to bed on time every night, set a reminder or alarm if necessary, and commit to going to bed at that time.
Getting enough sleep is more important than watching one more episode or reading one more chapter. Because getting 7-9 hours of sleep is so important, work backwards from the time you need to wake up in order to set an appropriate bedtime. If necessary, work up to getting the required hours of sleep; try going to bed 15 minutes earlier every night until you hit the magic number.
If you are sleeping in a room that’s too hot or too cold, too bright, or otherwise too uncomfortable, you aren’t going to get enough restful slumber. Work on making your sleep space as restful as possible. This means only using your bed for sleep or sex (not working or watching TV), investing in room-darkeing shades or drapes if necessary, and setting the thermostat to about 67 degrees Fahrenheit.
You can improve your sleep and get your mind and body in the right mindset for rest with a regular sleep routine. Get ready for bed every night with a relaxing warm bath or shower, some light stretching, or by reading a few chapters of a novel with a cup of tea. Be consistent in your routine, as it will trigger your brain to think sleep and help you fall asleep faster.
Electronic devices like your phone and TV emit blue light that disrupts sleep. To improve your sleep, turn off or put away all devices at least one hour before bedtime.
Many of the things you do every day, often in an attempt to be more productive, are actually keeping you awake. Pay close attention to what you do during the day, and whether it could be affecting your sleep. Some of the things that may be hurting you include:
- Too much caffeine - Avoid caffeine for 3-5 hours before bedtime to prevent sleep disruptions.
- Not enough natural light - Going in to work before the sun comes up and leaving after dark disrupts your natural Circadian rhythm and sleep patterns. Make a point of getting exposure to natural light everyday to help keep your rhythms regulated -- and get a mood boost in the process.
- Lack of exercise - Getting exercise helps improve your sleep, mood, and energy levels. Although you should aim for at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week, even just a short walk each day can help you reap the benefits. You can do this even when you’re busy: Walk down to the deli to pick up your lunch, or have a “waking meeting” around the block with colleagues instead of staying in a stuffy conference room.
You’re probably not surprised that stress and sleep deprivation go hand-in-hand. Stress is detrimental to your well-being in many ways, not the least of which is that it keeps you up at night. If you are constantly stressed and harried at work, look for ways you can reduce those feelings. For example, try working a flexible schedule or teleworking a few days a week to give yourself some breathing room. Often, remote work and sleep improvement go hand-in-hand, as you have greater flexibility for when you work and fewer interruptions that cause stress.
Other ways you can reduce work stress include:
- Delegating tasks you don’t need to handle yourself.
- Developing good relationships and strong lines of communication with colleagues to prevent misunderstandings.
- Setting designated periods to respond to emails and messages to reduce interruptions.
- Taking breaks. In fact, a 10-20 minute cat nap in an empty office or out in your car can do wonders for your energy levels and productivity for the rest of the day.
If you’ve tried correcting your sleep issues, but you still have trouble sleeping, or wake up tired and groggy every day, there could be a medical issue such as sleep apnea causing your problems. If sleep deprivation continues, make an appointment with your health care provider to get to the bottom of the issue and improve your sleep.
There will always be days when you feel like you haven’t accomplished as much as you would have liked to. However, when you constantly feel like you’re running behind, you miss deadlines, or just can’t seem to get out of your own way, your sleep deprivation could be to blame. By making changes to your sleep environment and habits, you’ll feel better physically and mentally, and be a rock star in your career.
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