Sleep … it’s something we all love and need, yet we don’t always have it. Too many people either don’t get enough sleep, or don’t get quality sleep. And if your career depends on focus and productivity, it’s possible your lack of sleep is holding you back, professionally.
The Relationship Between Sleep and Productivity
In the past few years, successful organizations have finally started to view sleep deprivation for what it is: a productivity killer and employee health issue. As a result, they’re actively pursuing ways to gently encourage their workers in the right direction.
“A growing awareness of the dangers of sleep deprivation on health -- and therefore, its impact on insurance costs and worker productivity -- is prompting companies to try to improve their employees’ rest,” says Jena McGregor of The Washington Post. “Goldman Sachs has brought in sleep experts. Johnson and Johnson offers employees a digital health coaching program for battling insomnia that involves an online sleep diary and relaxation videos for mobile devices. Google hosts ‘sleeposium’ events.”
Still, businesses continue to operate on the basis of statistics and facts, not feelings. So until Harvard released a study last year on the relationship between sleep deprivation and work productivity, smaller businesses and companies that lacked healthy budgets weren’t doing much to address the problem.
The Harvard research study found that, for the average worker, insomnia leads to the loss of 11.3 days’ worth of productivity each calendar year. That’s the equivalent of $2,280.
If you do some calculations, it becomes apparent that this may be a bigger issue than many of us thought. For even a small business with 15 employees, that would equal nearly 170 days of lost productivity … or the equivalent of $34,300. Nationally, insomnia may be responsible for an estimated loss in productivity worth $63.2 billion.
For the millions of professionals who suffer from a lack of sleep, this lost productivity could mean the difference between landing that big promotion and mindlessly stumbling through your career without enjoying steadily upward mobility.
Unless that’s something you’re okay with, you may need to actively seek ways to achieve better sleep.
Three Ways You Can Get Better-Quality Sleep
Sleep is a very personal thing. Not everyone needs the same kind of sleep. You’ll have to learn what your body needs and how different levels of sleep -- or lack of it -- affects your daily productivity.
The following tips and techniques are considered “best practices,” and should help you identify a healthy sleep routine that empowers you to perform at your best.
1. Pay Attention to Your Environment
Your sleep environment -- i.e., your bedroom -- plays a critical role in the quality of sleep you enjoy on a nightly basis. Specifically, pay attention to your mattress, light, and room temperature.
The mattress is probably the hardest thing to get right, since everyone has different needs. Depending on whether you’re a side sleeper, back sleeper, stomach sleeper, or a mixture, you’ll need a particular type of surface to rest on.
Elements such as firmness and materials also come into play. However, for couples in particular, nothing is more important than motion transfer.
“If you sleep with someone else in the bed, you don’t want their movements to disturb you,” says mattress expert Joe Auer. “The best way to address this is by finding a mattress with good motion isolation. That essentially means if you put pressure on one part of the bed, the other parts don’t feel anything.”
The last thing you can afford, especially if you and your significant other have different sleep schedules, is to wake up every time the other person tosses and turns. Finding a mattress that’s not only comfortable, but that minimizes motion transfer, is vital.
As for light, you need to make your sleep environment as dark as possible. Light inhibits the secretion of melatonin -- your body’s hormone that promotes sleep -- and ideally should be eliminated altogether. This means using blackout curtains on windows, turning off the TV, and avoiding the use of mobile devices in bed.
Finally, temperature plays a crucial role. Though it may sound low, research suggests 65 degrees Fahrenheit is the ideal temperature. This coolness, when combined with blankets and bedding, encourages you to fall asleep easily and wake up refreshed.
2. Maintain Responsible Afternoon and Nighttime Habits
Your daily and nightly habits likely have more of an impact on your sleep than you know. Decisions you make at 3 p.m. can directly influence your ability to fall asleep at night. That’s why you need to look at your sleep cycle as an around-the-clock responsibility.
During the day, you should make sure you’re spending some time outdoors. Exposure to natural sunlight ensures your body gets exposed to light and helps to keep your melatonin regulated.
If you aren’t able to get outside much, open up your windows and let the light in. You should also be careful not to drink any caffeinated beverages, including coffee and soda, after about 2 p.m.
In the evening, be careful about drinking alcoholic beverages. There’s nothing wrong with one or two drinks, but the drowsiness you experience due to alcohol consumption is not going to help you.
It may aid in your ability to fall asleep, but it can cause you to become restless later, in the wee hours of the morning when the liquid depressant wears off.
Finally, you need to set rules regarding when you’ll fully unplug from work in the evening. Checking your email before laying your head on the pillow may seem like a reasonable choice, but it could have a direct and negative impact your quality of sleep.
At the exact moment when your mind should be slowing down, you’re inadvertently making it process new information, stress about tomorrow’s decisions, and remember new things.
3. Give Yourself Some Time in the Morning
When morning rolls around, most of us want to spend every possible second we can underneath the sheets. However, it’s not a smart idea to lie in bed until you’re up against the clock. Your mind and body need time to adjust.
Try granting yourself a 30-minute cushion each morning. This half-hour period should be free of responsibility. One morning, you can use it to read. Another morning, you might go on a walk around the neighborhood.
The morning after that, you could use the time to cook a healthy breakfast. This tiny sliver of unstructured time in the morning will allow you to wake up properly before the stress and demands of the day materialize.
Don’t Skimp on Sleep Any Longer
It’s important to note that your sleep needs will change over time, as well. Just as infants, toddlers, and teenagers all demand different sleep schedules and durations, so do adults.
As you age, you’ll find that your body performs differently. You might need more sleep, less sleep, or even a nap or two in the middle of the day to carry you through. Pay attention to the signs your body gives you and don’t be afraid to make adjustments.
Sleep and productivity are directly intertwined. You can’t expect to enjoy the latter without committing to an appropriate amount of uninterrupted rest on a consistent basis. Identify the issues that are present in your daily schedule and sleep environment and set a conscious goal of improving your sleep habits.