More than a third of American adults aren’t getting the recommended 7 hours of sleep every night. For years now doctors have been trying to help us understand the consequences of sleep deprivation on the human body.
According to Joseph Ojile, M.D. medical director at the Clayton Sleep Institute, when you go from a few restless nights to more chronic sleep deprivation, you don’t realize how tired you are. Sleeplessness and fatigue impair judgment and self-awareness.
Moreover, a lack of sleep manifests itself in other ways too. Your eating habits may become uncontrollable; you may be gaining or losing weight much faster, you may feel oversentimental and find yourself focusing on the negative more often. With consistent sleeplessness, you will also experience decreased libido and an increase in cortisol levels.
In other words, chronic sleeplessness can wreak havoc on the quality of your life. I remember a few years ago when I had just started my career and was working for a PR agency in Dubai. I was constantly overworked, sleepless and stressed. I didn’t have time for family or friends and wasn’t particularly happy about my work either. It kept going, and I soon noticed some swelling on my left thyroid gland.
Fast forward a few days; I got it checked. There were no problems in the bloodstream, but the gland kept swelling and swelling to the point that it turned into the size of a tennis ball. So here’s what I did;
I quit that no-good job that was causing me so much trouble, traveled all the way to Europe on vacation, started meditating regularly and said goodbye to stress and sleeplessness forever.
Viola! The ‘thing’ reduced in size and eventually vanished.
Here’s what chronic sleep deprivation, coupled with stress, can do to you;
You get much less done
Many people think spending less time on sleep gives them more hours to get work done. They think sleep is just a waste of time and ‘interrupts’ their productivity. But instead of becoming more productive, sleep-deprived adults get much less done. Here’s a schedule I followed for 3 years before I realized I wasn’t going anywhere with it. Not to mention, my body was giving up on me.
6:00 am – Wake up
6:15 am – Exercise
7:00 am – Get ready for work
8:00 am – reach the office & grab breakfast
8:30 am – Start checking emails
9:30 am – Get in touch with writers to check for pending work
10:30 am – Start editing copies
12:30 pm – Take a few client calls
1:30 pm – Check emails again
2:30 pm – Send out a press release to media
2:45 pm – Start calling media outlets for review
3:30 pm – Lunch
4:00 pm – Check more emails
5:00pm – Talk to clients/ journalists
6:00 pm – Get in touch with writers again
6:40 pm – Edit copies again
7:00 pm – Leave for home
8:00 pm – Reach home
8:30 pm – dinner and relaxation
9:30 pm – checking emails again
11:30 pm – check on pending work
On an average day, I would crash before midnight only to repeat the whole cycle again the next day.
Here’s how much sleep people in these countries are getting;
Being exhausted doesn’t mean you’re hustling
Most people assume that sleeping less would automatically equal getting more done. By doing this, they expect to see the results of their labor faster.
30% of the employees sleep for less than 6 hours a night. When your brain can’t function at its optimum, it means you’re taking far longer to finish projects.
So here’s what everyone is thinking; if I sleep less, I can make more time for the activities that are important to growing my business or further my career goals.
For a while it works, but the impact of sleeping less soon starts to show. As I started sleeping less and less, I realized I was performing worse at work. I was much less productive, and I was making mistakes, forgetting important things Not to mention, I felt so much more irritable and short-tempered.
I was also taking much longer to finish projects, reply to emails, finish calls, and find out-of-the-box solutions to problems. Everything was stressing me out, and that’s when my left thyroid started growing in size.
You feel under the weather more frequently
Sleeping fewer hours than your body requires to rest gradually weakens the immune system. While you may be someone who never falls sick, you will notice that you get over one illness and get another.
The immune system is unable to fend for itself and fight off germs. According to one study, people who regularly slept less than 6 hours per night were 4 times as likely to catch the common cold.
Webmd.com confirms the link between lack of sleep and lowered immunity.
If you’re not sleeping well, or not sleeping enough, you will also notice that your body feels sore and achy. Sleep allows your body to make growth hormones and undergo tissue repair.
Stimulants like coffee aren’t always enough to override the body’s need for restful sleep.
You find yourself in the middle of conflicts more often
Researchers believe that lack of sleep may reduce impulse control. You may be the most patient person you know, but sleeplessness can cause little things to rile you up.
Studies have shown that people who slept less read facial expressions incorrectly. They start seeing non-threatening people as threatening. It can have serious repercussions on your career and your relationships with your colleagues, managers, and clients may suffer.
In general, sleep deprivation can lead to workers becoming poor communicators. Sleep-deprived individuals drop the intensity of their voices, pause for long intervals without obvious reason, mumble instructions inaudibly, slur, run words together and repeat themselves.
You go over the material again and again
Sleep deprivation affects cognition and focus which is why you’ll find it hard to retain information. You may end up asking people to repeat themselves because you’re tuning out unintentionally due to fatigue. You may find yourself taking notes obsessively and relying on a plethora of tools like Google calendar and spell checks to keep you in line.
You may also find that what you’re reading takes a long time to sink in and you may even have to read the same paragraph multiple times to make sense of it. Overall, these habits translate into poor productivity levels and performance.
On the other hand, sleeping for just an hour more every day can have a huge positive impact on your productivity levels.
You let go of great opportunities
When you’re not getting enough rest, you are also most likely missing out on great opportunities at work. Being proactive and thinking out-of-the-box requires you to sometimes take additional responsibilities or look at your work differently.
But when you’re at your limit physically, the moment someone suggests taking on another responsibility or trying something new for your career, you retreat into your cave.
Mentally, you may know it’s an opportunity, but on a subconscious level, your system is too overloaded to stomach another responsibility.
The true power of sleep for productivity
Sleeping better and longer can change your whole outlook towards work. You may be wondering how to squeeze another 2 hours in your already packed day.
Well, my friends, it’s all about mental capacity. The more rested your brain is, the faster it can process. A well-rested mind and body can get a lot done during your work hours.
Take a look at the sleeping patterns of some of the top performing athletes in the world;
Except for Tiger Woods, you’ll notice that everyone else sleeps a minimum of 8 hours per night. And looking at Woods’ performance lately, he better start hitting the snooze button more often.
I sleep for a little over 9 hours, and the extra sleep helps me manage my work so much better than before. Projects that took me an upward of 10 hours are now completed in 5 hours or less. Responding to emails, talking to clients, and brainstorming new content ideas has all become much faster thanks to a well-rested, sharp brain!
How to get enough sleep so you’re productive
It takes a long time to get into the habit of not sleeping. But sometimes it also takes a long time to get into the habit of sleeping again.
First things first, you’ll need to change your mindset about sleeping. Life is busy for everyone and work is not going anywhere.
A mindset shift will help you prioritize sleep. In my case, I started saying ‘no’ more often at work. This simple change allowed me more hours to rest. Truth be told, I enjoy sleeping. Sometimes that’s what I do on my off days; I just stay in bed and relax.
This infographic will help you ready yourself for sleep;
A lot of times we use mobile devices right before bedtime. Research indicates that blue light affects your sleep patterns.
Also, it helps going to bed and waking up at the same time every day.
Entrepreneurs who sleep more than 8 hours and are very successful
Members of the business world continue to brag about how many hours they’ve worked vs. the number of hours of sleep they’ve lost. While losing a few hours of sleep every day may make sense to entrepreneurs who want to get a headstart on their mountainous responsibilities, most people cannot really succeed without sleep.
In fact, sleep is right up there with nutrition and exercise and is very important for sound mental and physical health. It’s a myth that you can’t have a great business if you’re sleeping enough. Lately, Jeff Bezos and Arianna Huffington have been advocating for a healthy amount of sleep. Hopefully soon, the sleep-deprived entrepreneur will become a thing of the past.
- Tim Cook, CEO of Apple: 7 hours per night (9:30 p.m. – 4:30 a.m.)
- Bill Gates, Co-Founder of Microsoft: 7 hours per night (12 a.m. – 7 a.m.)
- Ellen DeGeneres, TV Host: 8 hours per night (11 p.m. – 7 a.m.)
- Jeff Bezos, Founder & CEO of Amazon.com: 7 hours per night (10 p.m. – 5 a.m.)
While there are others who still prefer to sleep 3-4 hours a night, you need to find what works best for your body.
We are constantly lying to ourselves when we say we don’t need rest, we don’t need a break, and we can go without sleeping much. In the end, we are just pushing our bodies to the limit, hoping in vain to be productive.
The fact is, the more sleep-deprived you are, the slower you get work done. Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital also found that accuracy and speed at a visual search computer task decreased significantly the longer participants were awake, Reuters reported.
Sleep isn’t optional. We’ve been conditioned to see the burning of the midnight oil and waking up before sunrise as traits of great leaders. But the truth is sleeping restfully is the most competitive thing you can do for yourself.