Effects of Sleep on Productivity

What is the most common piece of advice you hear the night before an important event? “Get a good night’s sleep”, of course. Whether you’re taking a big exam, a big interview, or even running a marathon the next day, you’ll likely get this advice. It is astonishing how much depth this line has, even though these days it is nothing more than an idiom. The fact remains that we collectively know that better sleep equals better productivity. Yet so many of us are glued to our unlimited high-speed internet all night and then wonder why we perform poorly.

Sleep and Productivity – Improving Both

Changing, fast-paced lifestyles and demanding jobs mean that people try to be more productive on less sleep. Our bodies’ natural processes, however, say otherwise. If you want to be more productive, you need to do the opposite of sleeping less i.e. sleeping better. Poor sleep can harm your productivity for not just the next day, but the entire week ahead. This can wreak havoc on your work schedule as well as your personal life. This blog explores the relationship between sleep and productivity in the following areas:

  1. Insufficient Sleep
  2. Inconsistent Sleep
  3. The Costs of Poor Sleep
  4. Improving Sleep and Productivity

Without further ado, let’s examine these areas and try to understand why sleep is so important for productivity. Read on to learn more.

Insufficient Sleep

Insufficient sleep is perhaps the number one culprit behind reduced or poor productivity. It is very simple. If you don’t get enough sleep, it will hamper your productivity. Your reactions will slow down, and you will feel less energetic and more tired all day. Your creative abilities will suffer, and your ability to narrow down your focus will also diminish. Sleep deprivation, to give it its proper name, also impacts your decision-making faculties and makes problem-solving more difficult.

Sleep deprivation makes it difficult to manage your time during the day and makes executing tasks more difficult. It saps individuals of motivation, concentration, memory and even decision-making capabilities. But why does this happen? The human brain consolidates memories learned during the day during the REM part of our sleep cycle. This happens late at night, usually in the latter part of our sleep cycle. Sleep deprivation often causes us to miss out on the REM cycle instead of lighter sleeping stages.

Sleep deprivation also means less deep sleep. The so-called deep sleep stage is the time when the body releases healing enzymes that repair the daily damage to tissue and muscle. When deprived of this stage, your body is more likely to be stiff, sore, and achy the next day. Since your muscles and tissue never got time to heal, you will feel tired or even exhausted the following day.

Inconsistent Sleep

Inconsistent sleep is the second most common culprit behind poor productivity during the day. It’s not enough to be sleeping well, you need to be sleeping well consistently. An irregular sleeping schedule will wreak havoc with your cognitive abilities for the entire week. What this means is that the amount of sleep you’re getting is as equally important as how regularly you’re getting it. Our body functions according to its internal clock, also known as the body’s circadian rhythm. Irregular sleep disrupts this rhythm, interfering with the release of melatonin and causing tiredness similar to jetlag.

Our circadian rhythms dictate our sleep cycle. The natural cycle is the day-night cycle, in which the body releases melatonin in the evening. This is the brain’s signal to the body to get ready for sleep. During the day, the brain releases cortisol levels while melatonin levels go down. This is the brain signaling the body to wake up. An irregular sleep pattern means a delayed melatonin release, which will have you sleeping later than usual. The trickle-down effect of irregular sleeping habits can be harmful to your productivity.

The Costs of Poor Sleep

You might not know it, but your poor sleeping habits actually have physical monetary costs. According to a 2016 study by the RAND Corporation, the US economy loses up to $410 billion a year to sleep deprivation. Over 1 million workdays are lost every year as a result of sleep deprivation. On a micro level, an individual loses 11 days of work and around $2200 in wages on average every year. In sensitive fields like healthcare, driving and flying, the costs could be much grimmer.

Improving Sleep and Productivity

So we know that poor sleep means poor productivity for the week. But does the relationship work the other way around as well? Does better sleep mean better productivity? Thankfully, the answer is yes. If you get regular, healthy sleep, it helps you with better productivity at work. But you need to get good sleep first for that to happen. You can improve your sleep cycle and hence your productivity in several easy ways that include:

  • Find the best sleep schedule that fits in with your routine
  • Create a calming bedtime routine to get into a calm state
  • Transform your bedroom into a space conducive to sleep
  • Switch off your phone before going to bed
  • Try 20-30 minute power naps during the day
  • Try getting a few minutes of sunshine every day
  • Exercise regularly
  • Eat healthily
  • Plan out the next day before sleeping

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