If the stress of these last couple of years has thrown your sleeping habits out of whack, you’re not alone. Research published in The Lancet Neurology Journal found that sleep disturbance and insomnia rates have increased all over the world since the start of this global pandemic.
In the U.S. alone, 32 percent of adults report unhealthy changes, according to the American Psychological Association. As prevalent as this is, however, it’s a problem both for your well-being and for your work performance.
The fact is, your brain and body require sleeping in order to maintain healthy functioning. Despite what the always on workplace culture might influence you to believe, sleep is an essential ingredient for productivity.
In this month’s edition of The Productivity Box, we will discuss the role that sleep plays in physical and mental wellness. And we’ll learn why it’s such an effective performance boosting hack that anyone can use.
How sleep quality affects your physical health
Sleeping allows the body to rest and repair itself from all kinds of physical wear that your cells, tissues, muscles and organ systems could experience on a daily basis. But the reverse is also true. Not clocking enough hours of restful sleeping each night can take a toll on the body, even causing serious health conditions over time.
Here are a few specific connections between sleeping habits and physical wellness:
- It affects your heart function. The fluctuation between relaxation and recovery that occurs while sleeping is crucial to maintain a strong heart rate and healthy blood vessels, explains Frontiers in Neuroscience. However, a persistent lack of sleep can raise blood pressure, weaken the heart muscle function, and increase your risk of cardiovascular disease in the long-term.
- It influences your metabolism. A healthy metabolism allows the body to convert food into energy at an optimal, efficient rate. Sleeping adequately can bolster your metabolic rate, while not doing it enough could slow this process down, Frontiers in Endocrinology reports. Metabolism issues can cause low energy, appetite increase, excess fat storage, insulin resistance, and metabolic syndrome.
- It has a role in immune health. Continual sleep deprivation causes oxidative stress in the body which harms immune function and can lead to chronic inflammation, according to BioMed Research International. Over time, excess inflammation could result in autoimmune diseases, as well as neurological conditions such as dementia, stroke, and multiple sclerosis.
- It regulates your hormones. Optimal sleep habits follow a natural circadian rhythm which tells the body when to be alert and when to rest. If sleep and circadian rhythm align, the body will release hormones when it’s supposed to. But with a lack of sleep, hormones will not secrete when they should, resulting in hormonal imbalance, Current Topics in Behavioral Neurosciences indicates.
How sleep quality affects your mental health
Just as vital it is for the body, it’s also important for the mind. Working with a bad mood or brain fog can affect your productivity and performance. If you’ve noticed changes in your mental health or cognitive function lately, inadequate sleep might be a factor.
Here are some ways that sleep can impact your brain:
- It improves focus and attention. Not only do circadian rhythms help regulate hormone secretion—they also control highs and lows in attention span over the course of a day. With optimal sleep, it’s easier to sustain focus and attention for long periods of time, while lack of sleep causes fatigue and makes you feel much less alert, according to the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine.
- It stimulates memory processes. The neurons that encode memories to store in your brain strengthen and reactivate during sleep, the Psychological Science Journal explains. This helps you retain information, as well as perform other executive learning functions such as creative problem-solving.
- It manages stress to lift your mood. The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that a restless or too-short sleep duration raises cortisol levels. This can exacerbate stress and, over time, cause other mood disorders such as anxiety or depression. However, quality sleep duration can have a positive affect and help alleviate feelings of stress.
The connection between sleep and productivity
It’s clear that sleep is a crucial part of wellness and self-care, but how do your sleeping habits influence your overall job performance? Research from the National Sleep Foundation reveals that workers who consistently sleep less than 6 hours each night are much less productive than workers who sleep at least 7 hours each night. Sleep deprivation also causes more workday fatigue and absenteeism, the study continues.
In his TED Talk called “The Science of Sleep and Art of Productivity”, neuroscientist Dr. Matthew Carter points out how many wear their exhaustion as a badge of honor because this might suggest that you’re working hard and being productive. However, the data says otherwise and you may be losing productivity by sleeping less and working more.
It’s not a coincidence that when you wake up feeling refreshed after an optimal night’s sleep, you can accomplish more on the job. Sleep energizes the body, sharpens the brain, and gives you an extra boost in productivity. This simple hack is something anyone can tap into, so here’s how to work it into your routine.
Practical ways to improve its quality
The National Sleep Foundation recommends that most healthy adults aim for 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. While duration is important, you also need to make sure your sleeping habits promote a restful and restorative sleep quality that leads to a strong work performance.
Get ready to sleep longer and better with these tips for optimizing your sleep hygiene:
- Follow a consistent bedtime routine every night. About one hour before your normal bedtime, do a non-stimulating ritual that helps relax the body and calm the mind. For instance, you could take a warm bath, listen to music or a meditation, read a chapter in a book, or practice a restorative yoga flow.
- Limit your exposure to electronic device screens. Most electronics emit blue light waves which can block your natural melatonin production. That’s the hormone that signals to the brain it’s time for sleep, according to the Healthcare Journal. This can delay sleep onset and shorten overall duration, so start limiting your exposure to these devices at least one hour before you head off to bed.
- Create an optimal, comfortable environment. Ensure the room is dark enough and the temperature is regulated to your preference. Play ambient nature sounds if you need subtle background noise that won’t distract. Or keep earplugs on hand if you need to cancel out all noise.
- Do a “brain dump” before you turn off the lights. Keep a journal on your nightstand to write any thoughts down before settling in. If you’re running through your to-do list for tomorrow or all the things you didn’t get done today, you’ll struggle to fall asleep.
The handy productivity hack
Sleep is just one more reason why you might be feeling less productive at work. What’s more, it can affect your physical and mental health too.
So, don’t let it derail you any longer. Use these strategies to adjust your routine so you can show up in the morning feeling ready to do your best.
And with small tweaks like this, which can be easily implemented, you will be able to improve your productivity in general and work performance in special, by quite a lot.