Do you often lay there staring at your bedroom ceiling counting sheep? Have you felt worries and anxious that you have a busy day at work and aren’t sure how you’ll cope? If this sounds familiar, then you are amongst the one in three people in the UK who suffer from a lack of sleep.
The importance of sleep on your mind and body
In this article we’ll discuss the key factors which can make it difficult to achieve the recommended seven to nine hours of replenishing sleep that are essential for every aspect of our lives, including workplace productivity.
Your brain sorts and processes the days information while you are sleeping, so don’t be fooled into thinking that when you’re asleep, your brain has shut off too! The process of your brain sorting and storing information while you sleep is essential for creating long term memories as your body consolidates all the information it’s picked up during the day and files it away for later use.
There are several hormones released during sleep, all with different purposes. Melatonin, released by the pineal gland, controls your sleep patterns. Levels increase at night helping to you feel tired. While sleeping, your pituitary gland releases the growth hormone which helps your body to grow, repair and recover.
Not only this, but a regular lack of sleep is associated with increased levels of the hormone Ghrelin, which stimulates hunger. If levels of Ghrelin are raised then there can be a tendency to overeat and make poor food choices, opting for processed snacks over nutritious foods. Over time, these poor choices and tendency to overeat could lead to obesity and type-2 diabetes. So, next time you notice your food consumption increasing and/or food choices decreasing in quality, take a moment to consider the quality of you sleep over recent weeks and make a conscious effort to take some control in this area.
Sympathetic nervous system
During sleep, your sympathetic nervous system (which controls your fight or flight response) gets a chance to relax. Studies have shown that when we’re deprived of sleep, sympathetic nervous system activity increases which is mirrored by an increase in blood pressure. Scientists studying coronary heart disease are currently investigating whether there is a relationship between decreased sleep duration and increased risk of heart disease. So, play it on the safe side and get plenty of sleep in order to reduce your risk!
While sleeping, your immune system releases a type of small proteins call cytokines. These cytokines help your body to fight inflammation, infection, and trauma when you are sick or injured. Without enough sleep, your immune system may not be functioning at it’s best and could therefore hinder your recovery process.
We’ve included a simple table below to outline the mental and physical impacts of not spending enough time snoozing:
|Elevated risk of diabetes||Reduction in cognitive performance|
|Weight gain – Obesity||Increased stress levels|
|Heart disease||Memory issues|
|Lower life expectancy||Mood swings|
As you can see, sleep is important for us as humans and something we need to pay more attention to.
So, how can sleep affect our workplace productivity?
Insufficient sleep can significantly impact our work performance. Nodding off during a meeting, muddled thoughts, procrastinating and yawning at your desk can all be a sign that you are sleep deprived. This then results in lost productivity at work due to below par performance, with the potential to snowball and lead to additional stress on oneself, poor eating habits and even possible job performance declining which may result in disciplinary action or even dismissal.
This is a sure sign we are sleeping poorly and messing with our bodies in built sleep wake cycle, otherwise known as the circadian rhythm.
So what is it, exactly? Your circadian rhythm is basically a 24-hour internal clock that is running in the background of your brain and cycles between sleepiness and alertness at regular intervals. This of course works best when we have regular sleep patterns, if not we then begin to suffer.
Quality or quantity
So how much sleep do we need in an ideal world, and does the quality matter? Current research suggests that for most adults, between 7-9 hours of sleep is adequate.
Moreover, quality is of high importance so the research states that to class sleep as good quality we must aim to be:
- falling asleep in less than 30minutes
- waking once in the night
- falling back to sleep in less than 20 minutes if we wake
- sleeping around 85% of the time we are in bed
How can we track this?
There are many apps available that claim to monitor sleep, fitbit for example produce watches that give an estimate of your sleep time and quality of it. Also there are much simpler ways to know if we are sleeping enough:
- improvements in skin
- not craving caffeine or junk foods
- feeling more energised
- clearer mental functioning
- better productivity at work and home
- feeing happier and less mood swings
What can we do to sleep better?
There are numerous things we can personally do to help get a better quality of sleep:
- Make the bedroom sleep friendly so you associate it with only sleep – blackout curtains, no tech zone, comfortable mattress, tidy, earplugs if needed.
- Do not exercise vigorously close to bed time – not for all but, this can impact sleep due to a raise in body temperature and the release of stimulating hormones opposite to those which relax us.
- Keep a diary – monitor your sleep schedule and patterns, this may pick up on stress, foods that may have a negative impact and then you can work against them.
- Avoid caffeine after lunch – caffeine is a stimulant which stays in the body for up to 8 hours so ditch that afternoon coffee and swap for a decaff drink instead.
- Wind down before bed – try a warm bath, read a book, turn off phones and TV 60mins prior, and let the body naturally wind down ready for sleep.
- Consistency – consistency is key so keep it up, it may take time but stick to it and the bodies circadian rhythm should normalise in 2-3 weeks
Sleep and productivity appear to go hand in hand, therefore companies must strive to understand what they can do to help employees. This can then result is better productivity of the employees which is a big plus for all.
As employees, we must also strive to sleep better to produce better quality work and be honest with supervisors if you are feeling work is suffering due to sleep deprivation. It is only then action can be initiated.
For some great information and tips, check out the national sleep foundation website which is updated regularly with all the latest sleep information.