We spend one-third of our lives doing it—or at least trying to. Going without it for several days in a row is significantly more dangerous than going without food for days at a time. After only seventeen hours without it, a person starts to experience cognitive deficits similar to those experienced by people with a .05 percent blood alcohol level. Parents lose up to 750 hours of it during the first year of each of their children’s lives. Heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity are all linked to the loss of it. Each year, accidents and errors related to the loss of it cost U. S. businesses $56 billion.
What is it?
It is sleep.
And we are not getting enough of it.
The Dangers of Sleep Deprivation
In a bid to be the best and do the best, many people have come to believe that they are helping themselves by trading in an hour or two of sleep for what feels like more time: more time to be productive and efficient, more time to plan and prepare. But in reality, sleep deprivation provides none of those things. Instead, it does the following:
1. Sleep deprivation shortens the attention span.
Even short-term sleep deprivation, such as an hour or two each night spread over two or three nights, can reduce cognitive ability. The number-one way it does this is by reducing the attention span, which makes it harder to focus and thus harder to spend a solid chunk of time working on a project at work or at home.
2. Sleep deprivation reduces alertness—and can make you feel drunk.
Increasing short-term sleep deprivation by another hour or two each night reduces your alertness and interferes with your ability to problem-solve and make good judgments. Dr. Charles A. Czeisler, a professor of sleep medicine at Harvard Medical School, explains: “If you get at least eight hours of sleep a night, your level of alertness should remain stable throughout the day, but if you have a sleep disorder or get less than that for several days, you start building a sleep deficit that makes it more difficult for the brain to function.
Executives I’ve observed tend to burn the candle at both ends, with 7 am breakfast meetings and dinners that run late, for days and days. Most people can’t get to sleep without some wind-down time, even if they are very tired, so these executives may not doze off until 2 in the morning. If they average four hours of sleep a night for four or five days, they develop the same level of cognitive impairment as if they’d been awake for 24 hours—equivalent to legal drunkenness. Within ten days, the level of impairment is the same as you’d have going 48 hours without sleep. This greatly lengthens reaction time, impedes judgment, and interferes with problem solving. In such a state of sleep deprivation, a single beer can have the same impact on our ability to sustain performance as a whole six-pack can have on someone who’s well rested.”
3. Sleep deprivation interferes with social reasoning.
A 2010 study found that sleep deprivation hinders the ability to read facial expressions and emotions. This means you might not be able to pick up on important social cues at work (like your boss’s sour mood) or at home (like your teenager’s discouragement). This type of social and emotional deficiency may seem insignificant at first, but repeated over days and weeks, it can lead to poor communication, lack of trust, and overall tension in relationships.
More Sleep = Better Results, Better Productivity, and a Happier Life
On the other hand, those individuals who get more sleep, meaning they don’t deprive themselves of sleep and regularly get the recommended 8 hours each night, are more productive, better able to reason with those around them, and tend to be better performers overall. A fascinating study of elite concert violinists found that they not only practice more than their not-quite-as-elite peers, but they also rest more.
Almost all of them reported sleeping an hour more a night than their classmates who weren’t quite as accomplished. In “The Quiet Secret to Success,” Christine Carter, a Senior Fellow at the Greater Good Science Center, writes, “Super-high-achievers sleep significantly more than the average American. On average, Americans get only 6.5 hours of sleep per night. (Even though studies show that 95 percent of the population needs between seven and eight hours of sleep a night.) Elite performers tend to get 8.6 hours of sleep a night.”
But even if you aren’t an elite performer, getting more sleep is, in fact, the best thing you can do for yourself if you want to increase productivity.
Here are 3 simple reasons why:
1. Good sleep boosts your mood.
2. Good sleep makes you more creative.
A 2009 study found that good, solid sleep that allows one to enter REM, actually boosts creativity. In fact, creativity scores increased by 40 percent in those participants who reached REM during a period of sleep prior to taking the tests.
3. Good sleep improves memory and learning abilities.
Experts have found that good sleep helps the brain learn and grow on an ongoing basis. This means that individuals who get regular sleep are quicker to respond to problems and with better, more innovative ideas than their sleep-deprived counterparts.
The key here is to follow through and change your sleeping habits so that you truly are getting good sleep for 7 to 8 hours a night and waking up rested. In February, I shared 5 Essentials to Getting a Good Night’s Rest. The 5 essentials are sticking to a schedule, eating right, creating a good sleep environment, eliminating naps, and exercising. You can read the details here.
PS. Check out more on improving mood and productivity in our seven day bootcamp, Good Mood Bootcamp. Click below to learn more!