Just how important is sleep to your productivity?
It may seem counter intuitive to sleep and relax more when you've got so much to do but in reality it could be the best thing you could possibly do for your productivity levels.
A lack of sleep has been shown to have effects such as:
- lack of alertness
- decline in ability to memorise
- impair problem solving ability
- worsen your mood
Not only does a lack of sleep impair your mental performance but it also weakens your immune system. Therefore, your body is not getting the proper care it needs to combat inflammation and infections; thus leaving us feeling far from fresh.
Here are some studies that highlight the importance of sleep when examining productivity:
- The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that employee's who suffered from poor sleep quality were significantly less productive, displayed lower cognitive ability and performed in a less safe manners.
- Furthermore, in one study which examined the sleeping habits of more than 4000 employee's, they discovered the employee's who suffered with insomnia or slept less than the recommended amount were almost three times less productive than those who got sufficient sleep.
- A study conducted by the American Academy of Sleep discovered that those who only get 5-6 hours of sleep a night are nearly 20% less productive than those who get 8-9 hours
How much sleep do you need to be at your productive best?
When discussing sufficient sleep, there is no set amount of hours that everyone should aim for; the amount of sleep you need varies from one person to another. Some may feel fresh and alert when only getting as little as 5 hours of sleep a night, whilst some long sleepers may not feel alert unless they get their 10 hours.
The National Sleep Foundation states that certain age groups require certain amounts of sleep. They recommend the following:
- Newborns (0-3 months): 14 to 17 hours
- Infants (4-11 months): 12 to 15 hours
- Toddlers (1-2 years): 11 to 14 hours
- Preschoolers (3-5 years): 10 to 13 hours
- School-age children (6-13 years): 9 to 11 hours
- Teenagers (14-17 years): 8 to 10 hours
- Younger adults (18-25 years): 7 to 9 hours
- Adults (26-64 years): 7 to 9 hours
- Older adults (65+ years): 7 to 8 hours
A great way to find out exactly how much sleep you need to be at your productive best is to adjust your sleep by 15 minute intervals depending on how you feel. For example, if you get 7 hours of sleep the previous night but still feel groggy, try allowing yourself 15 minutes more sleep the next day and examine how you feel. You can then continue this process until you identify exactly how much sleep you need. Furthermore, by only adjusting your sleep time by 15 minute intervals; you're not shocking your body too much and thus you can still work productively throughout the day.
How you can improve your sleep quality
#1. Create a Consistent Sleep Schedule
Everybody has a body clock (also known as your circadian rhythm) which tells you when to wake up and when it's time to get some sleep.
The problem with an inconsistent sleep schedule is it constantly confuses your body clock, thus disturbing your sleep rhythm leading to symptoms such as:
- Increased stress
- Mood swings
- Inability to focus
- Decline in mental ability
To avoid experiencing effects such as these, you should try to create and maintain a sleeping schedule.
First you should consider what time periods your body gravitates to; some people are naturally early birds, therefore they find themselves being the most productive and alert in the early hours of the morning. On the other side of the spectrum are the night owls who may not feel alert and energised until the late hours of the night.
We often make the mistake of trying to change our sleeping schedule to one that does not suit us. This is because our circadian rhythm is dictated by our DNA and ancestry. Therefore, if you're an early bird you're never going to be at your productive best in the late hours of the night and vice-versa.
Instead of trying to conform to a sleep schedule which doesn't fit your needs, try to create your sleep schedule around your natural circadian rhythm whilst still allowing yourself to get enough sleep.
Creating the right sleep schedule is only half the work, you need to ensure you're consistently sticking to the schedule so that your body clock can get used to it. This means not just getting into bed at a certain time but being ready to go to sleep by the time that you've planned.
#2. Create the Right Sleeping Environment
There are 3 factors which determine the quality of your sleeping environment, these are:
Therefore you should try to do your upmost best to ensure you're sleeping environment is cool, dark and quiet so you can get the best sleep possible.
Light is one of the key factors in predicting sleep quality. This is because our body clock is partly determined by the darkness of our environment at certain times. This is why it can be incredibly hard to fall asleep when there's light shining through your window. Instead you should aim to make your sleeping environment as dark as possible so that you're brain recognises it's time to go to sleep.
Next, you should aim to regulate your sleeping environment's temperature. Everyone is suited to different temperature but try to ensure that the temperature is neither too hot or cold but cool. For the majority of people, the right temperature will be between 15 and 18 degrees Celsius. Sleeping within the right temperature range will allow your body to enter deep sleep quicker and for longer.
Lastly, try to ensure that your sleeping environment is as peaceful as possible. Any loud noises tend to wake us up out of deep sleep as our brains try to identify what the noise is and where it's coming from. Therefore, try to eliminate or minimise any noise surrounding the environment
#3. Create a Consistent Exercise Schedule
One way to instantly improve your sleep quality is through sticking to a consistent exercise routine.
Not only can exercise help reduce stress levels, thus allowing you to fall asleep quicker and increasing the amount of deep sleep you're receiving.
Various studies have shown that aerobic exercises can help combat insomnia and improve sleep quality. This is due to aerobic exercises increasing the amount of deep sleep you get.
Furthermore, a consistent exercise routine helps to regulate your body's temperature. After a strenuous workout session your body starts to drop in temperature after a few hours; this is similar to when your body's temperature starts to drop in temperature when falling asleep. This can therefore trick your brain into thinking it's time to sleep and it's why we usually feel fatigued after a strenuous workout.
#4. Reduce your Caffeine Impact
Whilst the effects of caffeine are noticeable as soon as 15 minutes after you've consumed it, it has a half life of over approximately 6 hours. This means even after 6 hours, half of the caffeine is still in the body. Because the primary effects of caffeine are a dose of energy and alertness, any caffeine in the body will make it harder for you to fall asleep.
Therefore, if you're having sleeping problems or would just like to improve your sleep quality, try to minimise your use of caffeine. If you find yourself reliant on coffee or needing it to work productively, try to only consume caffeine as early as possible. This ensures that the majority of caffeine is out of the body before you try to go to sleep, making it easier for your body to calm down and fall asleep.
I hope that this guide to the link between sleep and productivity will inspire you to prioritise your sleep schedule; not just to boost your productivity levels, but to improve your overall health and mood. Remember, as with any habit, it's always hard at first but it always gets easier over time. Good Luck!