Our society puts a high value on achievement but not much on rest. I hear people brag about how much they work and play but never how much they sleep—usually the opposite. But what if sleep could help you achieve more?
My team and I just finished launching the Get Noticed! Theme for WordPress, and I am fried. We were down late and up early, day after day. Late-night emergencies and early-morning crises were the norm.
My team managed it well, and—thanks to you—it was a successful launch. But I didn’t sleep well for a few weeks there. Maybe you can identify. We just don’t get enough sleep, do we?
The Sleep Deficit
In our high-risk, high-reward economy, there’s a healthy pressure to do more with less. It makes sense with time and money. But it’s a productivity killer when it comes to sleep.
Experts say we need about eight hours a night. But the national average is about 6.8. I got a lot fewer hours than that for several nights during the launch.
And the truth is the real average might even be lower. We usually report how much time we spend in bed, not how much time we actually sleep. It turns out we only get about 80 percent as much sleep as we think.
Why aren’t we getting enough sleep?
The Myth of Sleepless Productivity
Maybe it came too easy for us in college or we’ve watched too many movies, but it’s easy to think that one hour of lost sleep is equal to one hour of bonus productivity. I’m afraid it doesn’t work that way.
I’ve discovered by painful and groggy, first-hand experience that sixty minutes of one does not equal sixty minute of the other.
I’m not saying that we don’t face emergencies and need to give up sleep every now and then. But our lack of sleep isn’t usually about emergencies. For instance, how many product launches have I done this year compared with how many hours of lost sleep? Not enough to explain my sleep deficit.
We act like sleep is a luxury or an indulgence; as a result, sacrificing sleep in the name of productivity has become routine.
But the opposite’s true. Cheating our sleep is like maxing our credit cards. There’s a benefit now—at least, it feels like it—but the bill always comes due in the form of decreased health and mental ability.
No one would choose to be sick and stupid, but depriving our bodies of sleep is the same thing. Robbing our sleep is robbing our productivity.
Four Crucial Ways Sleep Helps Us Achieve More
There are several ways sleeping more at night can help us accomplish more during the day:
- Sleep keeps us sharp. How many times have you gone blank in a meeting, nodded at your desk, or forgot where you were going? It’s happened to me more than I’d like to admit. Skimping on sleep—even a little—can dramatically impair our mental performance, creating fatigue, inability to focus, slow reaction times, and more.
Did you know that in one study test subjects going on six hours of sleep a night for two weeks functioned at the same level of impairment as someone legally drunk? But those who got eight hours demonstrated no impairment at all.
- Sleep improves our ability to remember, learn, and grow. I’m sure brain teasers are fine, but adequate sleep is the best learning tool there is.
Our minds are particularly active when we sleep, integrating new information learned during the day, processing memories, and sorting the significant from all the meaningless stuff we pick up. Even dreaming is critical to this process.
If our work depends on our creativity and insight—and whose doesn’t?—then sleep is essential.
- Sleep refreshes our emotional state. I’ve mentioned before a time I felt really discouraged after a lot of travel. When I told Gail, she suggested weariness was the real culprit.
Nothing can make us feel depressed, moody, and irritable like missing sleep. Here’s the good news: Getting enough sleep is like hitting the reset button.
In his book Eat Move Sleep, Tom Rath explains that sleep reduces stress chemicals in the brain and dials back the part of the brain that processes emotions. The result is that we can start fresh if we invest in our sleep.
- Sleep revitalizes our bodies. We all have a body clock. When we ignore its signals to play longer or work more, we create unnecessary stress, and that stress contributes to depression, fatigue, weight gain, high blood pressure, and a lot worse.
But sleep lowers the stress chemicals in our bodies, boosts our immune system, and improves our bodies’ metabolism. Instead of waking unrested after putting in extra hours on a project, why not wake approach it recharged the next day? You’ll do better work and feel better about it.
Bottom line: Instead of thinking of sleep as self-indulgence, we need to think of it as self-improvement.
There’s nothing wrong with doing more with less, but if we’re not smart about it, we can really hurt our productivity and even our health. It hardly matters what the short term gains are if we try making that our norm.
If we want to get ahead, we need to go to bed.
Question: How do you feel when you get a full night’s sleep several days in a row? What happens to your productivity if you try to skimp on sleep for a week or more?