Almost everyone has experienced sleep deprivation at one point or another. Who hasn’t arrived at the office with an extra-large cup of coffee and announced: “I just didn’t sleep very well last night”?
Although a sleepless night every now and then isn’t generally much to worry about, chronic sleep deprivation is a serious concern. Adults typically need at least seven hours of sleep per night, but more than half report not getting adequate sleep at least once per week. All of this lost sleep can have significant effects on your overall health and well-being, but one area that particularly suffers is your productivity.
The Sleep-Productivity Connection
According to a study by the Rand Corporation, sleep deprivation costs American businesses more than $411 billion annually -- the equivalent of 1.23 million working days -- in lost productivity. Individually, the cost of sleep deprivation amounts to more than 10 lost workdays and almost $2,300 in lost wages every year. Sleep is vital to supporting important mental processes, and without time to rest and recover, you simply aren’t going to perform up to par. A lack of sleep can cause multiple issues, including:
- Problems with concentration
- Difficulty recovering from distractions
- Slower reaction times
- Poor memory
- Reduced accuracy
- Increased stress, anxiety, and frustration
- Taking longer to complete tasks
- Increased risk of accidents
- Increased risk of burnout
This, of course, is in addition to all of the physical ailments that can be linked to sleep deprivation, including chronic diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, which also contribute to reduced productivity and less time at work. In short? Ongoing sleep deprivation can be devastating to your career, and to your employer’s bottom line.
Why Sleep Deprivation Hurts
The fact that not getting enough sleep is so detrimental to your productivity begs the question of why. Why is it that the consequences of not getting enough sleep mimic those of consuming alcohol?
Although scientists are still researching the effects of sleep deprivation on brain function and overall health, initial studies indicate that it’s related to sleep’s purpose as a time for our bodies to be restored and repaired, and for our brains to process new information.
It’s known that during sleep, the body uses the time to repair muscles and restore energy. In a study of athletes, researchers discovered that inadequate sleep contributed to an 11 percent reduction in performance. Simply put, without adequate sleep, you are going to tire more easily, and lose energy to function. And when you don’t have the energy required to do your work, productivity suffers.
However, it’s not just your physical energy that suffers when you don’t sleep. Your mental energy takes a hit as well. This is due at least in part to the fact that your brain uses REM sleep to consolidate memories and process learning and new information gained during the day. If you don’t get enough REM sleep, which usually occurs later in the night during the deeper stages of sleep, your brain doesn’t process this information as well, thereby contributing to memory loss and an inability to focus.
Unfortunately, sleep deprivation is also cumulative, meaning that the longer you go without a good night’s sleep, the more pronounced the effects and the greater the cognitive decline. Chronic sleep deprivation can have a profound effect on Circadian rhythms, or our natural sleep and wake cycle, as it affects the natural production of melatonin, the hormone that dictates when we sleep and when we wake. Over time, not getting enough sleep will disrupt your internal clock, not only making it harder to fall and stay asleep on a normal schedule, but also making it harder for your brain to function normally.
Solving the Problem
The most obvious solution to the sleep deprivation problem is to get more sleep. Getting between 7-9 hours of rest per night, on a consistent and regular schedule, will do wonders for your overall cognitive functioning and productivity levels. However, that’s often easier said than done. There are some things you can do to increase your likelihood of falling asleep, though, and getting the rest you need to perform at a high level all day.
Maintain a regular sleep schedule. Aim to go to bed and wake up as close to the same time each day as possible. Set an alarm or reminder on your phone to go to bed if necessary, and don’t ignore it.
Practice good sleep hygiene. Reserve your bed for sleeping and sex only, and make your room as restful as possible. A cool (about 67 degrees Fahrenheit) and dark space is most conducive to good sleep.
Turn off devices. The blue light emitted from devices like phones and televisions is proven to disrupt sleep, so turn everything off at least one hour before bed to help fall asleep faster. If you must have your device nearby, use the nighttime or dark mode to reduce the amount of light coming from it.
Staying productive at work is important to moving ahead in your career and avoiding problems with your boss. Getting enough sleep contributes to peak performance, and will allow you to get more done and feel more accomplished every day, without feeling as moody or sluggish.