Sleep to stay in the race: How sleep fuels productivity and resilience

Coffee cup next to a bed

Sleep deprivation is a serious business. It’s the invisible contributor to reduced productivity at work and more broadly, to an unhealthy lifestyle.

A lack of sleep profoundly impacts how effective you are in a work capacity, your ability to make sound business decisions, and how engaged you are with your colleagues.

While most of us can tolerate and recover from short periods of sleep deprivation, a long-term sleep deficit can have implications on other areas of your life.

I have experienced burn-out at work and the effects of ongoing sleep-deprivation first hand. At this stage in my life, my 14-hour work days were largely powered by adrenaline. While there were many aspects of my work lifestyle that contributed to this toxic routine, sleep — or a lack thereof — played an integral role.  

Why does sleep matter?

Nutrition and physical activity are often considered the cornerstones of maintaining wellbeing, and sleep is overlooked as a way to improve our overall health.

The power of a regular sleep pattern shouldn’t be underestimated. Sleep is our opportunity to recharge, regroup and establish an efficient mindset for the day ahead. It’s also steadily being recognised as a leading factor in preventable disease, emotional competence, and distress.

Our recent Global Resilience Report of 26,099 professionals showed sleep quality was the biggest factor underpinning high levels of resilience. This is due to a direct impact on maintaining perspective as well as many indirect associations through reduced level of cortisol and improved impulse control, as well as greater optimism and emotional positivity.

A good sleep routine can be a welcome boost to those who continually function at a fast pace and high performance level. Equally, if you’re going through a period of low productivity and are lacking the energy to feel truly resourceful at work, assessing your sleep levels is an easy place to start.

Sleep science

Our circadian rhythm ticks away in the background dictating our hormone levels and influencing when we are most productive. Generally, our biological clock reveals that alertness peaks at 10.00am, with the best coordination at 2.30pm, and the fastest reactions at 3.30pm.

This highly sophisticated internal clock also determines when you fall asleep, immune regulation, digestion, emotions, and more. Regular disruption of your biological clock can increase your appetite, lead to sugar cravings and even create lethargy akin to the effect of jet lag.  

If you are attempting to work efficiently among the fog of ongoing tiredness then rest assured, you’re tackling a losing battle.

Studies on shift-workers and aircrew demonstrate that long-term irregular sleep patterns and constant flipping of the body’s circadian rhythm can actually lead to serious preventable health issues, such as diabetes and heart disease.

In fact, Monday mornings have the highest incidence of heart attacks, which has been attributed to the abrupt change in sleep-wake cycles caused by sleeping in or staying up late over the course of the weekend.

It’s a sobering thought. So, let’s put sleep back on top of the priorities list.

Tips for establishing quality sleep

Aim for seven to eight hours a night. Sleeping less than six hours a night — which many people are victim to — puts you at risk of ongoing productivity and health problems.

Discover your sleep rhythm. Over time, explore the optimal time you need to be in bed. This will be somewhere between 9.30pm and 10.30pm to ensure you secure that crucial midnight deep sleep.  

Consistency. Commit to a strict wake up time seven days a week. While a sleep-in on the weekend might seem like a well-earned reward, it can make your Monday morning wake-up even more challenging as it disrupts your sleep routine.

Manage your sleep deficit. If you are in sleep debt, go to bed earlier one night a week, or add in a power-nap during the day. Make sure the nap is no longer than 25 minutes and that you’re awake before 4.00pm.

Digital downtime. The blue light at dawn naturally stimulates our brain to wake up and keeps our biological clock in tune. Removing the use of digital devices and screens one hour before sleep, and certainly during the night, will help prevent irregular sleep patterns. It’s time to reinstate a traditional alarm clock.

Cut the caffeine. A late afternoon coffee may revive you in the short term, but it will impact your ability to fall asleep quickly. Avoid caffeine after 2.00pm.

An active day leads to a restful sleep. A minimum of 20 minutes of natural daylight and some physical activity every day — ideally early in the day — will make it easier to fall asleep.

By implementing these guidelines, you will be surprised at how your energy levels, mood, and focus at work improve over time.

Remember, routine and discipline are the pillars of making sleep a daily priority, but it’s also important to be curious, listen to your body, and learn what sleep routine works best for you.

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