Sleep Deprivation: Why It's A Problem and How to Sleep More
We’ve all experienced smothering a yawn during a meeting, or losing track of how many cups of coffee we consume during a work day when we feel especially tired. But just how much does sleep deprivation actually affect our performance on the job?
In today’s world, emphasis has fallen away from the importance of sleep and leisure in our daily lives. Instead, the focus is often on hyper-productivity, longer work hours, and vigorous exercise during our off hours. Yes, keeping physically fit is important, but many people underestimate the equal importance of sleep in our daily lives. According to a study by the National Sleep Foundation, prolonged wakefulness has become a national phenomenon, and the negative effects of this loss of sleep have been widely underestimated in a society that places an emphasis instead on achievement, productivity, and active leisure time.
How important is it to achieve a good night's sleep on a regular basis? You may be surprised to learn that chronic sleep deprivation has a marked detrimental effect on your work performance, health, mood, safety, and overall sense of well-being.
Common causes of sleep deprivation
So why are people in our society so chronically sleep deprived that Starbucks coffee shops have sprung up like mushrooms on every street corner, and no work surface is complete without a cup of cooling coffee amongst the paperwork? According to WebMD, studies have shown that common causes of sleep deprivation include the pressure to trade sleeping hours for more hours of work and play, as well as the stress of daily life, children, and unrecognized medical or mental health conditions.
Many of us are simply so accustomed to feeling tired that we assume it’s normal, that it’s the way everyone feels, and that it is something we just have to power through and ignore. In today’s world people don’t often realize that they could feel any other way.
Impact of sleep deprivation on job performance
If covering a few yawns and drinking gallons of coffee in order to emerge from your zombie-like state is the only downside to being sleep deprived at the office, then what does it matter if you aren’t getting enough sleep? Well, according to a study by the Mayo Clinic, adults today typically get only about six hours of sleep or less per night, and that has a detrimental impact on our performance at work. Negative effects include a decrease in attention and alertness, decrease in vigilance and working memory, and a significant lowering of reaction time. When you aren’t getting at least seven hours of sleep per night, your performance at work is not at its optimal best. In fact, even a modest amount of sleep loss per night, such as getting one hour less than the minimum seven, can accumulate over time and could result in notable changes in work performance. According to the National Sleep Foundation, studies have shown that chronic sleep deprivation causes us to be less creative, to be unable to process information quickly, and to be less likely to retain information and important facts.
What are some things we can do in today’s busy world to get a better night’s sleep and improve our functionality in the workplace? In order to perform to our full potential it’s important to move sleep higher up on our list of priorities, when for most of us it’s somewhere near the bottom of the list. Research shows that sleeping from seven to nine hours per night can dramatically improve energy, mood, and productivity during waking hours.
Here are some things you can do to offset sleep deprivation:
- Reset your sleep cycle by gradually devoting more time to sleeping at night. This is especially important if you’ve been getting six or fewer hours of sleep per night for an extended period of time, if you’ve recently pulled an all-nighter, or if you’ve experienced jet lag. It’s helpful to begin by adding a half hour of devoted sleep time per night until you’ve reached the optimal seven to nine hours of sleep.
- Talk to your doctor about your sleep problems. There is an entire medical industry devoted to assisting with sleep, from dealing with apnea and snoring, to stress management and insomnia. It’s important to note that getting optimal sleep is as important as exercise and physical activity to your overall health and performance.
- Put away your phone and turn off your screens an hour before bedtime. These devices can significantly delay and reduce the hours of critical REM sleep that is necessary for our alertness during the day. It can also cause us to miss out on the deep sleep that is responsible for restoring our muscle health, which can lead to aching muscles and exhaustion.
- Have a consistent sleep schedule. In 2017, a team of researchers studied two groups of Harvard students and discovered that even though the two groups experienced similar amounts of sleep, the group that followed a regular sleep schedule performed work and study tasks markedly better than those who didn’t, confirming that regularity of sleep patterns is just as important as the duration of sleep.
In short, it’s time for us all to recognize the importance of regular and consistent hours of sleep as being just as important to health and performance as proper nutrition and physical activity. Increasing the number of hours of sleep per night will result in increased productivity, faster reaction times, improved memory, accuracy and better judgment and mood.