Are you getting the right amount of sleep each night?
Chances are, you’re probably not.
But how much should we sleep for the optimal level of productivity?
How does sleep impact on our productivity?
In the long term we can expect the following factors to impact on productivity:
- Improved health: Reduced risk of Heart Attacks, Heart Disease, Diabetes and Obesity.
- Improved weight control: Behavioural effect: Feeling tired can leave us less likely to complete physical exercises, such as going to the gym or jogging. Physiological effect: Leptin is the hormone which plays a key role in making you feel full. When you don’t get enough sleep, Leptin levels drop.
- Stronger immunity: A study tracked participants over two weeks based on their sleep duration. After this, the participants were exposed to the Cold Virus. The study found that those participants that got seven hours or less sleep, were three times more likely to get ill than those who got eight hours or more.
In the short term we can expect the following to impact on productivity:
- Improved memory: Our brains use sleep as a time to consolidate memories from the day. If we don’t get enough sleep, those memories may be lost.
- Improved mood: Not getting enough sleep can affect your emotional regulation. This may lead to emotional characteristics at either end of the spectrum (highs and lows). Sleeping too much can leave your mood dull through the day, feeling lethargic and tired.
- Clearer thinking: Rather unsurprising if you’ve experienced making a lot of mistakes in the morning – putting your clothes on the wrong way, or putting cold water in your Coffee. As expected, sleep loss affects your cognitive ability and decision-making abilities.
- Less risk of injury: Similarly to the above, sleep deprivation increases risk of injury through mistakes made. The Institute of Medicine estimates that 1/5 of motor accidents are caused by sleep deprivation.
- Less pain: Many studies have shown a link between sleep loss and a lower pain threshold.
- Improved sex life: 26% of people say that their sex life suffers as a result of being too tired, according to the National Sleep Foundation. The link between sex life and productivity can be seen here.
Take a look at this Infographic highlighting sleep deprivation statistics and productivity.
What is clear from past studies is that the idea that 8 hours sleep is the most beneficial amount of sleep for everyone should be thrown out of the window.
Sleep should be assessed in a similar way to diet and nutritional requirements or calories required. The amount needed depends on the individual. Their genetics, their lifestyle, medical history, lifestyle and so on.
Thus, what is included in this article should be interpreted as data derived from studies based on the average of a test sample. There are variations in what is best for each individual.
To gain a clearer understanding of how age impacts on the number of hours slept by each age group on average, look at this chart.
So it can be seen that sleep duration declines with age. Some reports state that this is because less sleep is required as we get older.
On the other hand, multiple studies report that the amount of sleep required remains constant through adulthood. Thus, they report that the lowered levels of sleep required are down to changes in sleep patterns as we age, or sleep architecture.
So with such varied recommendations and variability between individuals, how can we use sleep to improve productivity?
Looking at the broad spectrum of information, we can confidently state that the average adult needs somewhere between 6 and 11 hours of sleep each night. This is to ensure that sleep deprivation does not cause us long term health problems.
This is recommended as long-term effects on health are not directly measurable by ourselves.
But there is still 5 hours of variation in that sleep duration range?
Precisely; everyone is different. From this it is worth trailing out each sleep duration within this range. If you’re serious about this, record how you’re feeling at each part of the day.
Don’t just trial for a day or two, trial for at least a week to allow your Circadian Rhythm to adjust.
The idea is to reach the duration of sleep which allows us to function at our best. This includes sleeping the same amount of time at the weekend. This is a common cause of dissatisfaction with sleep duration – oversleeping at the weekend, which in turn upsets our Circadian Rhythm.
So we’ve looked at how optimal sleep patterns can increase productivity and why different people need different amounts of sleep. One leading contributing factor to productivity is sleep quality. But how can we improve it?
Here are 13 simple ideas which can improve sleep quality.
1/ Avoid Caffeine, Nicotine and Alcohol
Caffeine and Nicotine are both stimulants, and thus it is understandable that these chemicals may disturb sleep.
Alcohol on the other hand is slightly more complex. You may feel sleepy after a glass or two of Wine, and this is natural. Getting to sleep isn’t the problem. The problem arises as it increases the number of awakenings in the night.
Alcohol consumption is also linked with increasing anxiety levels.
2/ Exercise early.
Exercise is great for sleep, so long as we don’t complete it just before bed.
Most of us feel highly energised after a workout, which is why many of us exercise first thing in a morning.
There is good reason for this. Exercise releases the hormone called Cortisol, which contributes to activating the alerting mechanism in the brain.
Needless to say, this can interfere with your sleep quality and ability to get to sleep. Try avoiding exercise within three hours of going to sleep.
3/ Monitor fluid intake.
Drink too much before bed and you’ll need the toilet,
Drink too little and you’ll wake up thirsty.
If these are problems for you, adjust your intake of fluids before bed.
4/ If you are to nap, nap early.
Many people swear by napping in their daily routine.
If napping is a part of our routine, staying asleep through the night can become problematic. This will likely be the result of afternoon napping. Ultimately, napping late in the day often decreases sleep drive.
If you are to nap, try nap early.
5/ Eat morning heavy.
We hear this all the time. ‘Breakfast is the most important meal of the day’.
And for a good number of reasons. As well as the nutritional benefits of eating morning heavy, this can also help us to achieve a greater sleep quality.
Often food can cause us indigestion, which will disrupt our sleep if we eat late. And quite often we eat the largest meal of the day close to the time which we go to bed.
Eat a lighter meal later. Avoid eating within three hours of going to bed if possible.
6/ Use natural light.
If you’re lucky enough to be able to use natural light to wake up, it’s only right to do so!
You can find out more about how this can benefit you here.
7/ Don’t force sleep.
This may seem like a strange one to include on the list,
However, going to bed before we are truly tired can cause us problems. This is because it can get increasingly frustrating to lay in bed awake.
Instead, begin reading until you are feeling truly tired. Avoid your Laptop or Mobile Phone as they emit Blue Light which can interfere with your sleep.
8/ Turn the clocks away.
Visible clocks can cause some people problems at night. This is for two main reasons.
Firstly, when trying to get to sleep, one of the first things people do is to check the time. Often this causes panic and irritation. The process then becomes a self-fulfilling loop.
Secondly, the time serves as an unnecessary distraction if we wake up in the middle of the night. Again, this can cause us to over think and lose out on sleep.
If you have clocks in your room, try make sure that they are out of sight.
9/ Make your bedroom sleep friendly.
If your bedroom is not yet fully sleep friendly, it’s time to make some changes. Here are some ideas.
Aim for a cool, quiet and dark environment. Needless to say, you should aim for a mattress which is comfortable for you.
Remove any possible interruptions of your sleep. This includes pets (if possible).
10/ Adopt a pre-sleeping routine and make it habit.
We should aim to engage in relaxing activities before bed.
This could include taking a bath, watching television, relaxation exercises or ideally reading a book.
Avoid anything that may be physically or emotionally stressful, such as work or physical exercise. This is because such stress can lead to the secretion of Cortisol, which increases alertness.
These pre-sleeping habits can develop into cue’s for your brain, signalling that sleep will follow.
11/ Write a daily journal.
Many people cite having things on their mind for sleep deprivation.
Taking our issues, problems, and anxieties to bed with us will only cause us more hassle. We should try and avoid this where possible.
Writing a daily journal can be extremely valuable in combating this. It can also greatly improve our productivity the next day. When we have something on our mind, it usually means we need to act.
Each night, writing down everything that is on your mind and tasks that need completing the next day can be a great help in clearing our mind. Think of it as transferring thoughts from your mind to paper, clearing your conscious mind.
The bonus is that you’ll be set up for the next morning, when your decision-making abilities are possibly at their lowest.
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12/ Sleep the same duration each day: Avoid sleeping in.
While this may be difficult to achieve due to the difference in our days during the week and our days at the weekend.
It may even be possible that you’ve never even gone a full week sleeping at the same times each day.
In doing this, we optimise our body clock in line with our Circadian rhythm. If we feel like we need to sleep in at the weekend to catch up on sleep, then it is a likely sign that we need more sleep during the week.
Try it, it could be life changing. After all, we do it every day.
13/ Avoid blue light on evenings.
Reach for your phone while lying in bed? It’s time to cut that out.
Some have cited the use of artificial lights and electronics on evenings as the number one contributor to our sleep problems.
Essentially some artificial lights and electronics contain blue wavelength, which tricks our brain into thinking it’s daytime. In turn, this disrupts our sleep patterns.
There are a number of steps you can take to remove Blue Light from your evenings which you can read about at HealthLine.
Ultimately, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to optimising your sleep routine.
In the long term, the overwhelming research suggests that we should be getting at least 6 hours sleep each night.
In the short term, it is worth implementing the ideas suggested here in order to use your sleep to achieve the highest level of productivity.
As well as this, tracking and experimenting with your sleep duration could be the key to achieving optimal productivity from sleep.
Furthermore, sleeping that same duration each day of the week may just be the key.
Want to add something? Get in touch!
*If you are experiencing sleep problems which you are worried about, consult your local doctor.
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