The business world can be hectic. If we are looking to succeed in this merciless arena, we are expected to deliver results. Unfortunately, for the driven employee, this can turn into a vicious circle. The daily grind of tasks can leave you feeling drained of energy, and yet too full of adrenaline to sleep. Many professionals face this problem. With modern advances in technology – smart phones in particular – we are never truly off duty. Professionals often take their work with them, reading through files and writing emails before bedtime. With lower quality and quantity of sleep than necessary, they turn up to work tired and insufficiently refreshed. Let’s see how this affects performance in the workplace, and what we can do to rectify the situation.
Sleep Is Not Optional
Our nervous system is a very complex apparatus. Evolutionary, the brain has evolved into performing three distinct functions: abstract thinking, reacting instinctively, and archiving information. Speaking in terms of evolution, abstract thinking and archiving are younger processes, but they are what distinguishes us from animals. They also take up a significant portion of available resources. Simply put, to be able to think creatively or memorize things, we must concentrate. It is widely known that plentiful rest has a crucial effect on our ability to focus. But that is not all. According to Dr. Compernolle, the Belgian expert on neuropsychiatry, the archiving brain is the most productive while we sleep. He argues that our brain is comparable to a computer the size of an airplane hangar, and that it is able to store nearly infinite bits of information. But to do so, it requires specifically allocated time to reorder and commit all that data to long-term memory. This is the process of transforming informational input into knowledge.
What Is the Purpose of Sleep?
There is nothing quite like a good night’s sleep. There is a reason it feels so great: neither our body nor our mind would be able to function without it. It helps our body re-energize and bounce back from the strains of the day. As for our brain, we have already established that, while we sleep, it uses almost its full potential to sort through, organize and memorize important information that we took in throughout the course of the day. It also tries to restore an emotional balance, if it has been disturbed. Physically, it does work that is absolutely essential to our wellbeing. It kick-starts all of the tasks that we couldn’t spare the energy for during our waking hours. Our brain builds new cells and forms synapses between them; it orders growth, repairs and rejuvenation processes all over the body; it regulates hormones; finally, it breaks down waste products that build up and orders their elimination.
How Much Sleep Is Enough?
While a lot of us continually try to function on too little sleep, the optimal amount is around 8 hours. That is the minimum we require to fully recuperate. If we sleep less than that, the brain will use up the available time to activate the aforementioned necessary physiological processes. However, it won’t be able to deal with the storage of data. As a result, we will be forgetful, disorganized, and unable to concentrate. Not only will we lack the long-term memory necessary to stay sharp; by feeling constantly tired, we open the door for our reflex brain to kick in during the decision-making process. Unlike the thinking brain, the reflex brain is a poor decision maker, easily influenced by habits and biases and prone to mistakes and manipulation. When it comes to work, lack of sleep always causes a drop in performance.
What Are the Health Risks of Insufficient Sleep?
When we wake up after only a few hours of sleep we know subjectively that we don’t feel well. We try to energize by drinking coffee or taking vitamin supplements, but the truth is that nothing can make up for those low energy levels but rest. What is behind that unpleasant feeling of exhaustion? Sleep is necessary to maintain our biological clock. A lot of us claim to be “night owls”. While there are, indeed, some people who function better in the evening, the truth is that most of us are not truly “night owls”, but just people who go to bed too late and wake up too early. This forms a sleep debt, which causes a biological clock disbalance. Prolonged insufficient rest can cause or exacerbate heart disease, mental illness, diabetes, weight problems and imbalance of hormones such as thyroid hormones, growth hormone and cortisol.
How Can I Boost My Productivity?
To use the full potential of your brain and excel at work, while maintaining stress at low levels, it is absolutely crucial to sleep at least 7 or 8 hours a night. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you don’t need so much sleep. Don’t think of sleep as a waste of time. Just because you are not aware of the work it does, doesn’t mean your brain is idle the entire night. Take care of your mind by day as well. Short rest periods during the day are equally as important. Take a little break after each intellectual task. This will give your brain the time to organize and archive the relevant data. Create a clear boundary between work and private life. Be as productive and focused as possible during your working hours, but don’t work overtime. It supports procrastination and distraction, so that you work longer hours with less useful output. Go to bed earlier, wake up at the same time every day, and tackle all of your most demanding tasks first thing in the morning, before any distractions.
To maximize our productivity, we first need to realize and acknowledge the essential role sleep plays in our work life. Once we start listening to the needs of our body and mind, we will be able to harness our brain’s full potential.