Deadlines. Targets. Performance data. Monitoring. So many of us go without sleep during the week, work late into the night or into the small hours or even work until it’s time to get up, and therefore going without any sleep at all, just to make sure everything’s done for the next day, so we’re not caught out, so we don’t have to apologise. And we try to catch up on our sleep on the weekend.
While researching how to help Year 11s manage their exam stress, it became clear just how important sleep is for managing our wellbeing, in fact it probably came out as the most important strategy to manage stress and improve performance.
Sleep deprivation is associated with heart disease, depression, Type 2 diabetes, IBS, stress, weight gain, obesity, dementia, the onset of autoimmune diseases, and even higher death rates, especially in women. The list seems endless in our chronic sleep-deprived world.
We know from neuroscience that the mind makes memories when we sleep so the link to dementia shouldn’t be a surprise. According to a study published at Berkley, it is missing deep non-REM sleep that produces beta-amyloid proteins that are the catalyst for Alzheimers and they aggregate in higher concentrations with poor sleep, and worse, they in turn hamper sleep leaving us caught in a vicious cycle.
Research has shown that lack of sleep increases mistakes.
In fact it’s like being drunk: just 17 hours of deprivation is the equivalent of 0.05% alcohol in our blood stream. The US estimates 100,000 crashes a year are due to sleep deprivation. Yet who would dare call into work and say ‘I can’t come in today I’m too tired to drive there’?
In contrast, a good night’s sleep is associated with better problem solving, memory recall, performance, productivity and concentration. According to the National Sleep Foundation, 90% of people report being good at tasks when they sleep well as opposed to 46% when they don’t sleep well. And when people are being less productive, they take longer to finish the task and have less down time as a result, which then creates a feeling of stress.
And stress produces cortisol, cortisol interrupts sleep, and lack of sleep produces cortisol. Another vicious cycle. When we don’t sleep our cortisol levels increase which disrupts our blood glucose levels causing cells to become insulin resistant, which is a precursor for type 2 diabetes as well as causing weight gain.
Just 30 fewer minutes sleep a night can increase our risk of getting diabetes or becoming obese.
We can recognise we are sleep deprived in our eating patterns as we crave fats, carbs and sugar to invigorate us and get rid of the brain fog. These feelings are caused by ghrelin and leptin – the hunger moderating hormones.
Ghrelin signals hunger and leptin suppresses hunger and signals that we are full. When we don’t get enough sleep, our body doesn’t produce these hormones in the right proportion and this leaves us feeling hungry and unable to control our cravings. It is estimated some people eat an extra 300-600 calories a day when they don’t get enough sleep.
Now seeing just how important sleep is, if we want to perform at our best and be healthy, how much sleep do we actually need? It varies between individuals and it is believed to be genetically affected, however as a general rule, it appears adults need 7-9 hours, teenagers 8-10 hours and school aged children 9-11 hours.
Is it Time to Change?
With all those symptoms arising from lack of sleep, it is amazing that we overlook them. This could be explained by a 2003 study in the journal Sleep which found that the more tired we get, the less tired we feel. Perhaps our modern workaholic nature and the desire to achieve makes us blind to what is really going on for us, and we don’t notice the gradual decline in performance and productivity. And we keep following traditional diets to head off the weight gain, albeit unsuccessfully as it yo-yos back on, oblivious to the fact that a few hours more sleep a night would solve our problems.
The bad news is that recent research published in Current Biology tells us that our sleep debt cannot be corrected by ad libitum weekend recovery sleep, otherwise known as ‘lie-ins’. We need a longer-term plan to get our circadian rhythms back into balance and pay off our debt.
For many, changing sleep patterns will require some serious introspection to change mindset and habits. And for some it will take serious realignment of their life to achieve sleep harmony and get their wellbeing and productivity back. Knowing that sleep is vital to your success, it is a worthwhile investment of your time.
The Bigger Picture
So what can we do in the workplace as employers and as employees to change the culture of needing to get more and more done so that stress increases and sleep becomes unimportant? If stress and lack of sleep reduce productivity then it’s in no-one’s interest to continue in this way. And that’s without considering the wider impact on society of the resultant burnout and higher levels of illness. Just no longer being three times more likely to get a common cold due to sleep deprivation would have a huge impact on the workplace.
If we change our sleep patterns and our work patterns, perhaps we will achieve more as we will be the best versions of ourselves.
If you would like help to identify the blockages to create new powerful sleep habits, book an Empower Hour with me and let’s get at the root of the problem.