By Dr. Nina Radcliff
Facts are that here, in the U.S., we are not getting enough sleep. We are a nation that loses sleep working, studying, taking care of personal and family needs, having fun and too, slaying a few dragons. The demands and expectations of our fast-paced 21st century lives have placed increasing loads on our time. And more than ever, people are making up for those strains by cutting back on sleep.
At the same time, it is becoming increasingly clear that the cost of insufficient sleep is much higher than most people recognize. It can compromise output, resulting in reduced efficiency and overall poor productivity. Awareness can help you improve your sleep habits and in turn your well-being and productivity in order to “rise and shine” to accomplish what you really want (and need) to do on any given day. Here’s some of the impact that a lack of sleep has on our success with projects at work, school, or home.
Dr. Nina’s What You Need To Know: About Sleep and Productivity
Weakened immune system: Not being able to function at optimum health
While you are sleeping, your body recharges and rejuvenates your immune system. Conversely, sleep loss can impair your ability to fight off germs. So while you may feel very productive staying up late or even pulling all-nighters, you become more vulnerable to infections that can result in slowing your abilities and production way down, even to a standstill.
Insufficient sleep can hinder your ability to assess situations and, hence, perform tasks that require logical reasoning or complex thought. And, too, sleep experts and the medical health community agree that when someone is sleep-deprived, their brain simply cannot process feedback from their actions and changing circumstances. As a result, we become more likely to make impulsive, ill-considered decisions.
Diminished Ability for Learning New Skills
The memory necessary in the process of learning – both short- and long-term –is heavily reduced by a lack of sleep, thereby hindering growth and improvement. This is a major problem for business professionals as well as students, who must continually hone their skills and pick-up new abilities in efforts to advance.
Research suggests that the nerve connections that make our memories are strengthened during sleep. In other words, sleep embeds the things that you have learned and experienced over the course of your day into our short-term memory. Nightly sleep cycles play different roles in consolidating new information into your memory. If your sleep is cut short or disrupted, it interferes with these cycles and your ability in learning new skills, is weakened.
This is a distinctive problem when driving or doing work or other tasks that could require a quick response. Fatigue is cumulative and it is estimated that missing the equivalent of one night’s sleep is like having a blood alcohol concentration of about 0.1 — above the legal limit to drive. We all need to take note, as a slowed reaction time can endanger our goals and lives – and those we love –in many ways.
Emotional and Mental Health Out-of-Balance
People who sleep poorly can be more irritable, erratic and short-fused. And no professional, community or home environment needs someone who lashes out in anger or frustration at others. The National Sleep Foundation reports that the “walking tired” are more likely to seethe and quarrel with other people.
Not getting the proper amount of ZZZ’s can leave you feeling “foggy.” In a phone survey of over 10,000 Americans, researchers found that those who reported symptoms of insomnia were almost twice as likely to have committed a workplace accident or make a mistake that either caused damage or work disruption with a value of $500 or more. From the findings, the mistakes were costly with an average cost of an accident or an error over $20,000.
How Do You Know if Sleepiness Is a Problem?
Experts agree the best way to gauge whether you’re getting enough sleep is by how you feel or by what your body is telling you. In other words, you should not wake up feeling sleepy. Also, if you know you are not falling to sleep or sleeping soundly through the night, that’s a problem. You should be experiencing energy throughout the day to take on the tasks. As well, you should be engaged, attentive and exhibiting good concentration, memory tracking and people skills.
Tips to improve your sleep quantity and quality:
- Make sleep a priority — for our physical, mental, and emotional health as well as being the best we can at school, work, and our relationships
- Get in the mood. Engaging in relaxing activities in the hour before it’s time to hit the sack can help us doze off. Think of falling asleep as a continuum, not an abrupt transition. Before bedtime, quiet things down; pick up a book, pray, meditate, or take a warm bath.
- Avoid stressful psychological and physical activities– work, heavy exercise, rehashing things from your day, or arguing–a few hours before desired sleep time. Stress causes our body to produce hormones that send us into a “fight or flight” mode–the opposite direction of sleep and slumber.
- Avoid stimulants. Coffee, tea, soda, and chocolate contain caffeine that stimulates our brain and can increase our heart rate. It takes our body approximately 5-7 hours to clear half of the caffeine that is consumed, and 8-10 hours to clear seventy-five percent. If you are struggling with your sleep, consider discontinuing these items in the early afternoon, depending on your target bedtime. And, too, nicotine—contained in cigarettes and electronic cigarettes, is also a stimulant.
- Allow melatonin to rise. This hormone induces sleep and increases when it is dark. Artificial lighting—televisions, smart phones, computers and laptops, tablets, and light bulbs can put a damper on this.
- Make it a point to power down, turn off, and dim the lights at least 30 minutes before bedtime, and longer if needed.
Getting enough sleep is only part of the sleep equation. You also need to ensure the sleep you’re getting is good quality sleep. Inconsistent sleep creates a feeling similar to jet lag, where your body’s circadian rhythm is affected. Getting to bed at the same time every night allows the body’s circadian rhythm to become regulated, causing you to wake-up feeling more refreshed.
Too many think of sleep as a luxury or they have a cavalier tone about it. The record needs to be set straight on just how crucial sleep is to cognitive ability, concentration, emotional well-being, and other necessary qualities. Add to these, chronic deprivation may lead to a host of health problems including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even early mortality. Sleep plays a vital role in your ability to rise and shine to tackle each day’s tasks successfully as well as with your good health – throughout your life.